The Elevator Poems

Contest Winners Announced

By: - Feb 10, 2015


Judging The Elevator Poems proved to be a rather difficult task. There is much to like in them: “Otist” used as a verb; “Like Iowa in summer / No place for hipsters” (a good ending); “Advil in the eggnog” (another good ending); “. . . the floors / like / layer / cake”; and so on. It is great that such a seemingly unpromising subject should occasion so many memories, so much mirth, and not a little outrage. The poems are richly varied in tone and style, with allusions ranging from Dante to Georges Roualt to Howard Stern (and one poem a whole catalog of such allusions). Everyone should be congratulated on their creative verve and willingness to be a part of the fun.

In the end, though, the three most complete and satisfying poems were (in descending order) “The Rules of the Elevator,” by Gail Burns, “Paternoster,” by Astrid Hiemer, and “Stops,” by Stephen Rifkin. “Stops” is in some ways the most finished poem, but it is not actually about an elevator. Rather, it uses the elevator as a major trope, beginning in the fifth stanza. The simile in stanza seven is splendid, and the “dark” haunting the last stanzas strangely undercuts the apparent superiority of the view from the top. It is an intriguing poem.

“Paternoster” is fascinating because it simply hands us that one-word metaphor like a rosary and lets us worry and pray over it ourselves. The speaker is more concerned with all the fond, frightening, and finally transformative memories. The imagery is rich and evocative, and the wonder of the whole set of experiences comes through in a simple, understated manner (“. . . probably quite a number / Of accidents happened!” and “A photo exists and I must find it again!”). In some ways, this poem is that photo (though it is more like a film): a moving evocation of a vanished world.

“The Rules of the Elevator,” the best of these poems, functions in some of the same ways as “Paternoster,” but it adds a subtle touch towards the end. The first three stanzas are objective and impersonal. The poem then becomes a bit more personal, though it also becomes objective again, moving from “I” statements to purely objective statements to “we” statements and then back to “you” statements that, by now, include us, too—at least in imagination. The end seems anticlimactic at first, but then we realize that it takes us (“you”) from the height of “The whole building, fourteen floors from top to bottom,” singing “Adeste Fideles” in Latin, to the ground-level, pedestrian conclusion “On east 83rd street / And then you stopped.” It is something of a let-down, like that sinking feeling in the gut when the elevator comes to rest on the ground floor, even though it is ostensibly a liberating moment: freedom, during Christmas vacation, from the rules of the elevator and of the school. The final effect is subtle, complex, paradoxical.

Congratulations to all!

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