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In a poetry competition, there's more than a little of the absurd. It's like a frog jumping contest, except that the frogs lining up to jump have no chance to see the other frogs, or to measure their leaping abilities; no chance to see the holder of the yardstick, or judge his/her honesty or integrity. The successful frogs are notified of their feats; the rest must wait for the next invitation to leap.

All judgment is, at its dark core, arbitrary. Even frogs have the benefit of the judge's measuring stick—rigid, unchanging, commanding of trust. But the poetry-contest judge doesn't own such a stick. She is the stick, an improvised, one-off, single-use instrument made of perception and experience, applied to a chance community of poems. And the jumping contest enacts itself in the far-from-ideal circumstances inside her head.

So some luck must have come to the finalists, but we think the luck is all on our side. To have Patricia Clark's winning poem "The Only Body," in which "fields wave their grasses freshened by rain," and horses "step carefully in their huge, slow bodies" is luck of the highest order. Then there's Stephen Knauth's "Nightfall," in which "a grainy ray of moonlight breaks through the pear trees, softly striking the knuckles of my left hand." And Andrea Carter Brown's "45," with its "Velvet black trees, a breeze sweeping the day clean"; Elizabeth Kostova's "In Split," with its sky: "flat, rich, perfect in late afternoon"; George O'Connell's "Lint," with its "scented kiss of Cling Free" drifting its "negligee of filaments"; David Kirby's "Sex Therapy" ("It's best kept to one's self"); Chard deNiord's visiting skunk, "so fearless, ill and strange," Jon Erickson's philosophical tongues; the "columbine and nettles" in Aviva Luria's "Sleep, Before Death"; Louis Mazzari's "fog-smeared street of old warehouses filled only with night."

Here they are.

—A. B.

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