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 The 2019 “Prime 53” Poem Summer Challenge

To celebrate a new poetry form invented by Press 53 poetry editor Christopher Forrest and editor in chief Kevin Morgan Watson—the Prime 53 poem—we offered a challenge to our readers that ran the entire summer, from June 21 through September 23: write a Prime 53 poem.  In return, we would publish the top three poems, as judged by Chris and Kevin, in Issue 163 of Prime Number Magazine. The winners would receive a free paperback book of their choice from Press 53 or one free seminar at the High Road Festival of Poetry and Short Fiction, March 28, 2020, in Winston-Salem, NC (information on the Press 53 website).

The Prime 53 poem had to adhere to the following rules:

·         Total syllable count of 53

·         Eleven total lines

·         First three stanzas are three lines each with a 7 / 5 / 3 syllable count

·         Final stanza must be two lines with a 5 / 3 syllable count, for a total syllable count of 53

·         Rhyme scheme (slant/soft rhymes are fine) aba cdc efe gg

A Prime 53 poem’s total line count is a prime number (11), the syllable count in each line is a prime number (7 / 5 / 3) with each line of the last two-line stanza a prime number (5 / 3), and the poem’s total syllable count is a prime number (53).

We received more than 250 Prime 53 poems from readers around the world, and Chris and Kevin had a difficult time narrowing the winning poems to only three, so they settled on naming four poems to mitigate the struggle.

We also received numerous emails from writers telling us how much they loved this new form, so we hope everyone will continue to write Prime 53 poems and send them out to other publications. If you do place a poem at another publication, please let us know and we’ll share the link on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

We deeply thank everyone who sent us their poems.

And now, we present to you the first four Prime 53 poems to be published.

“At Dusk” by Dagne Forrest

“Another Neighborhood Meeting about Homelessness Ends in Acrimony” by Tom Laichas

“No Trope” by James Penha

“Gödel’s Garments” by Ron Scully

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Dagne Forrest

Dagne Forrest lives and works in the small town of Almonte, just west of Canada's capital. Spacetime, nature, and the smallest details in life provide her with jumping off points and inspiration. As a poet, she's particularly intrigued by playing with form. Her work has been published in K'in Literary Journal.

At Dusk


At dusk the woods shift closer,
shadows melt across
my shoulders.

Here, the nose puckering scent
of rotten apples
sharp, ascends.

Unseen roosting birds decry
my presence. Flustered,
tensing sky-

ward—dark wings undone,
one by one.

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Tom Laichas

Tom Laichas's recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Big Window Review, Masque & Spectacle, Ambit, 3.1 Venice and elsewhere. His first collection, Empire of Eden, is due out in 2020 from High Window Press.

Another Neighborhood Meeting about Homelessness Ends in Acrimony   


It’s easy to imagine
my sinning city
without sin. 

From the Observatory,
sodium street lights

the corrugated flood plain,
outshining bone-bright
slack-jawed pain.

From this height, mangled
stars spangle.

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James Penha

A native New Yorker, James Penha has lived for the past quarter-century in Indonesia. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in fiction and poetry, his verse appears this year in Headcase: LGBTQ Writers & Artists on Mental Health and Wellness published by Oxford UP and Lovejets: Queer Male Poets on 200 Years of Walt Whitman from Squares and Rebels. His essays have appeared in The New York Daily News and The New York Times. Penha edits The New Verse News, an online journal of current-events poetry. Twitter: @JamesPenha

No Trope


I smell a rat is no trope
in Indonesia:
from my stoep 

I whiffed offal rot at dawn
and found one melting
on my lawn. 

Whether murdered by a cat
or someone’s poison
this dead rat 

shall soon encompass
leaves of grass.

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Ron Scully

Ron Scully is a retired bookseller. After 25 years on the road—a real life Willie Loman only funnier—he has retired to the foothills of New Hampshire to refashion his field sales reports into an odyssey, a crown of sonnets, or a haiku or two, whichever comes first. Since retiring three years ago, he has published in Mystic River, Aiktsu Quarterly, Frogpond, and many small haiku magazines. Two chapbooks, Darlington Braves from Red Bird and Listening for Thirteen Blackbirds from Atrium, are scheduled to hit the bookshelves after the first of the year. He is also working on a play and an anthology of sports literature.

Gödel’s Garments

Truth and Lie shared the same bath,
one washed in language,
one in math.

Dried and dressed, in Jacob's robe,
the Word made leggy,

The Figure, sticks and bare bones
wrapped in a peignoir,
heart of stone.

And when they switch clothes,
no one knows.