2nd Singapore Poetry Contest – Third Prize Winner

I’m Supposed to Teach
by Sara Backer

the meaning of redundancy.
For example:

They went skydiving in mid-air.
Where else could you skydive?

I ask anticipating laughter,
receiving silent stares.

My students are somber.
A shy hand half-rises.

You can skydive in Singapore
over pure white sand.

Another hand. You could skydive
in the black spaces between stars.

Now, hands rise
by the handful.

Into a vast vat of chocolate.
Above the pyramids.

Through the Pope’s heart!
In Stephen Hawking’s brain!

The grasp I offer falls too short
of what they want to reach.


Judge’s comment: The theme–a teacher learning a humbling lesson from her charges–is not particularly original, but the execution of the theme is particularly well done. Lists are not easy to write, and this one, beginning with a non-obvious reference to Singapore (no orchids or merlion, thank goodness!), has variety, pattern, and momentum. The pun on ‘handful” is a nice touch and sets up the conclusion beautifully.


A former world-wanderer who has lived in Japan and Costa Rica, Sara Backer returned to her native New England where she teaches composition part-time at UMass Lowell. Her chapbook, Bicycle Lotus, won the 2015 Turtle Island Poetry Award. Poems have recently appeared in Gargoyle, So to Speak, Marathon Literary Review, Silver Blade, Strange Horizons, and elsewhere. Follow her online publications on Twitter @BackerSara or sarabacker.com.