White Mice 2017

White Mice 2017

The theme of the 2017 White Mice Poetry Contest, “Harbor,” was selected to coincide with the twentieth conference of the International Lawrence Durrell Society to be held in Chicago on July 4-7, 2018.  A special reading of the prize-winning poems will be held during a poetry event on July 5 at the Poetry Foundation.

The word “harbor” and its related words, “port,” “cove,” “haven,” among others, connotes arrival, departure, and safety.  In the case of Chicago, one thinks immediately of cultural and social amenities along Lake Share Drive not far from DuSable Harbor like Navy Pier, the Chicago Yacht Club, and further along, Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium.  The harbor in the Windy City not only witnesses the arrival and departure of countless watercraft but also opens toward the Chicago River, which winds into the heart of the glittering, world-famous modern architecture.

But the concept of “harbor” also resonates deeply on the psychic level, in our experience and understanding of transit, encounter, and the desire for security.  Harbors often remain elusive, barely visible or just out of reach, promising the safety of land and solid ground.  They occupy that liminal space between water, with its frequent turbulence, uncertainty, and even threat, and land, with its comforting illusion of permanence and stability.

Not surprisingly, the poems submitted to this year’s contest explore the many associations in a variety of moods and styles. Malcolm Miller’s first prize-winning “I Remember” counterpoises childhood innocence of a boy swimming with a more ominous awareness of adult suffering and perhaps even environmental loss.  Rachel Michaud’s second prize-winning “The Leaky Boat” focuses instead on a group struggling to get a dysfunctional craft to shore and the desire to forget.  Paul Jones’s witty, third prize-winning “She Sails” plays on our common feminization of ships to explore male-female relations and frequent mismatches in desire between the sexes.

The two poems selected by our judges for honorable mention likewise range in style and mood.  Katharyn Howd Machan’s sonnet, “Land,” anatomizes the life of a failed dreamer, who drinks and “wanders on the shoreline,” gathering from his meager life a collection of small, make-shift “souvenirs.”  Nancy Cook’s “Waiting for the Tsunami” depicts the “tsunami” of declining old age, linked imaginatively to the speaker’s experience of an earlier tsunami caused by “an Alaskan quake.”

With every contest I am pleased and impressed by the rich diversity of imagery, thought, and emotive power.  Having selected this year’s theme of “Harbor,” I worried that the topic might prove too narrow to engage a sufficient number of entries. I needn’t have.  The longing implied by this theme resonated deeply in poets from across the country.  These poems testify to our need to find a haven in a time of seemingly unending social turbulence.

David Radavich

First Prize

I Remember

I remember during heat waves
when I was a boy we were allowed
to go down at midnight
to the harbor to swim
in the black cold water that seemed
alive with salt and starscoming home barefoot with a big
towel over my shoulders I stopped
under the immense sky and stood there
feeling the strange joy
we can unfortunately live without

Malcolm Miller


Malcolm Miller published two collections of poetry with Tundra Press in Montreal.  A genuine eccentric, sometimes homeless, sometimes living in public housing, he led a fiercely independent life.  His story is told in a documentary film, Unburying Malcolm Miller (2017), by Kevin Carey and Mark Hillringhouse.

Second Prize

The Leaky Boat

One bails to keep the boat afloat.
The other rows. We’re sorry
we trusted a blue sky. We trusted
joy to hold us. We told
no one where we were going.
Damn, the water’s winning.

We do not want to face
each other, barely speak.
Who knew our hopes
would leak like paper boats?
Who knew how fear and shame
could change us?

The shore! The shore!
One bails. One rows.
We work as we have never
worked, like a machine.
The fuel is we refuse
to drown in this poor boat together.

We want so much to step on sand,
part, and forget each other

Rachel Michaud


Rachel Michaud is a prize-winning poet and essayist whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Hartford Courant, and numerous literary journals.  She was raised in Hartford and Elmwood, Connecticut and educated at Bennington College and the State University at Albany.

Third Prize

She Sails

This She saw herself a ship–
Tall rig, well set, sea tossed,
pirate boat bent on pillage–
And every Him a harbor

Along an irregular coast.
No entirely safe moorage,
No Him to whom to be tied.
This Him shallow, that a bore.

Him rocky, Him overage.
This Him subject to freak tides,
That Him’s natives are hostile,
Him lacked a job, Him ardor.

Him staid, Him could not decide,
Him too virile, Him futile,
Him too salty, Him too sweet.
Each Him She found disordered.

“No Hims,” the She sighed, “for me”
Disharbored, she kept at sea.

Paul Jones


Paul Jones’ first chapbook, What the Welsh and Chinese Have in Common, was a North Carolina Writers’ Network publication winner.  He has published reviews widely and is a contributing editor to the Heath Anthology of American Literature.  He is a professor at the University of North Carolina’s School of Information Science.

Honorable Mention


Because he couldn’t bring himself to sail
he sits now in a tavern every day
or wanders on the shoreline with his pail
for shells and beach glass washed up from the bay.
He drinks, and writes, and fashions souvenirs
with bits of twine and driftwood, sometimes net
he tells his customers is drenched with tears
of mermaids who are out there singing yet.
For sleep? A dark small room he keeps upstairs
with books, clean shirts, a way to light the page,
but never mirrors—not that his soul cares
they’d show the way his body’s suffered age.
On each salt-whitened branch? He twists a poem
of broken bottles, tall ships far from home.

Katharyn Howd Machan


Katharyn Howd Machan is the author of 34 published collections. Her poems have appeared in numerous magazines, anthologies, and textbooks. She is a full professor in the Department of Writing at Ithaca College in central New York State and in 2002 was named the first poet laureate of Tompkins County.

Honorable Mention

Waiting for the Tsunami

Mid-dive, mouthpiece secure,
flippers in synch, the boat above
bobbing gently, the mast a silver glint
beside the sun –

An Alaskan quake sends tremors our way
forcing: an early end to snorkeling, hotel
evacuation, an uphill drive with all the other
shoreside evacuees.

Nowhere to go, cars parked end to
end, waiting out the tidal wave.
We make a party of it, sitting on car
rooftops, sharing

birthday cake (for Tad) and stories
of where we’d been when the whistle
blew; above it all, no sense now of
being vulnerable,

though just a year ago, I walked
the hall from parking lot to hospital by
my father’s side; his steps were small
and tentative,

he stopped to rest every couple yards.
I was strong, steady in my gait, a step or
two behind but ready with hand at
his elbow, knowing

how he hated to be dependent,
knowing that’s my inheritance, that
some days this genetic pride makes me
feel superior like

today, a mile from the ocean, chased
by a tide I can’t control, warned
of a tsunami I don’t believe
will ever come.

Nancy Cook


Nancy Cook is a 2017 recipient of a National Parks Arts Foundation residency in Gettysburg and has recently completed her first book of short stories. She runs a “Witness Project,” a series of free community writing workshops in Minneapolis designed to enable creative work by under-represented voices.