Frontier OPEN 2020 Finalists: Taylor Byas, Taneum Bambrick, & Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach

First, a sincere thank you to all the finalists for partnering with us. All of these poems deserve high praise. For Part 2, we’re sharing work by Taylor Byas, Taneum Bambrick, Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach. Part 3 arrives tomorrow! You can read Part 1 of the finalists here, and see the Winner, Kayleb Rae Candrelli, here.


And So You Want A Poem

by Taylor Byas

after Anita Scott Coleman

And so you slap it on the ass
at the bar, buy it a drink. Between you
and the bartender, a double. And so it’s
single, blowing steam after a hard
day at work, bleary-eyed and losing
hope in everything except what’s in that
glass. And maybe you. And so the music
revs up and you drink your body
into a cage, two arms on either side
of the poem, enough room between the two
of you for Jesus and the list of tricks
you’ve mastered with your tongue. It’s late
now and the rowdy Friday night crowd spills
in from another bar, all mint
and maraschino mouths moving, marking
each other up. And so you can’t hear
the poem, have to really lend
an ear to it, get down on its level. And so
you ask it if it wants to go somewhere
more quiet, back to your place. Once home,
you tell it to get comfortable and it asks
for a beer. And so you crack open two, tornado-
gulp yours to prove you are made
for pouring into. But it’s not ready
for anything yet. And so you suggest going out
back, it’s a nice night. And so you lead it
out into the yard, show it where you cut
wood for the fire. You wear a shirt?
it asks, and this is your shot. You are shirtless
in the moon’s mirror, nudging the poem
to sit on the tree stump with axe-nicks
that cross and uncross themselves. Let me
show you how it’s done, as you weed
the axe from the earth. And so the poem
is impressed as you wind up, your body
more machine than muscle. You cut
a whistle into the air. The shawl of cicada-
song dulls the thud of your axe bit
burrowing into the face of the tree. And so
the poem’s two halves part like angry
lovers. So quick it couldn’t scream. And so you can’t
begin to realize what you have done.



Taylor Byas is a Black Chicago native currently living in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is now a second year PhD student and Yates scholar at the University of Cincinnati, and an Assistant Features Editor for The Rumpus. She was the 1st place winner of both the Poetry Super Highway and the Frontier Poetry Award for New Poets Contests. Her work appears or is forthcoming in New Ohio Review, Borderlands Texas Poetry Review, Glass, Iron Horse Literary Review, Hobart, Frontier Poetry, SWWIM, TriQuarterly, and others. Her chapbook, Bloodwarm, is forthcoming from Variant Lit this summer. She is represented by Rena Rossner of The Deborah Harris Agency.


Poem for Ellensburg

by Taneum Bambrick

We loved walking through Fred Meyer

with barn kittens in our sweatshirts. Loved,

from car windows, throwing Skittles

at the women sprinting up Craig’s Hill.

We loved lying blankets over gravel,

asleep with a boombox on the John Wayne Trail.

We peed on two high school tractors.

Emptied cans of applesauce on the black SUV

of the boy who loved us both simultaneously.

Loved calling each other gay inserted the word gay

into our own last names. We learned

what balls felt like working together

at Dairy Queen—the oldest employee

filling a rubber glove with a coil of ice cream.

We loved following each other through yard parties.

Through the canyon we pried crawdads

from a fanned creek. And when I was raped

we pooled our allowance to buy Plan B.

Quiet. Holding two huge Pepsis. We loved

until the Taco Bell on Main St.

The one where I danced in the drive-thru

and she accidentally ran over my feet. Crunchwrap,

spicy tostada, blue mountain dew.

And Brandon who worked there. He was the first

to ask if I had ever been in love with you.



Taneum Bambrick is the author of Intimacies, Received (Copper Canyon Press 2022) and Vantage (American Poetry Review 2019). Her work appears or is forthcoming in the New Yorker, The Nation, Academy of American Poets, and elsewhere.


Letter to My Son 

by Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach

Nov. 7th 2020, the night before his fifth birthday

Remember, the city streets bloomed
human and I took your picture
jumping into a giant pile of leaves
where you buried your left shoe.
Remember, this was more than joy.
I don’t want to find it, you said,
so you could walk half-barefoot,
bringing home November
on your sole and in your hair.
Remember how the air clung
to your heels, no earth
could hold you. Remember
my hands, even though
they have stopped trying
to ground your gravityless body,
remember they will always
reach to hold you. Remember,
you were born in the city
of brotherly love, in a country
of welcome, born from a foreign
people and tongue. Know, the day
you turned one, I lost faith
in love and in country. Remember,
even in loss, try to find hope
for joy. Know, tomorrow, the day
you turn five, there will be
dancing on Walnut, Chestnut,
Spruce, on every street
named tree. There will be
wishes and candles. Know
there will be sweetness.
It will be warm and the maples
will glow against our unseasonable
autumn, but no season is
as it was, my love. You will ask why
the trees are on fire and run
towards flame. You will dance,
always, and with the whole of you.
But know, while half the country
joins you in rejoice, the other
hates us for our joy. Remember,
anything born seed
has within itself the hope
to flower, cherry blossoms
along the tidal basin
clenched tighter than a fist
turn radiant bloom overnight.
Remember, you can choose
to believe in flight, the body’s
weightlessness. Remember,
pressing your bare belly
into mine and saying this
is your favorite part, the soft
you came from. Remember joy
can be that soft, my love,
my fingers through your curls
as you fall asleep, joy
in every dry leaf they find.



Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach ( is the author of three poetry collections: The Many Names for Mother, winner the Wick Poetry Prize (Kent State University Press, 2019) and finalist for the Jewish Book Award; Don’t Touch the Bones (Lost Horse Press, 2020), winner of the 2019 Idaho Poetry Prize; and 40 WEEKS, forthcoming from YesYes Books in 2023. Her recent poems appear in POETRY, American Poetry Review, and The Nation, among others. She holds an MFA from the University of Oregon and just defended her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. She lives in Philly with her two kids, two cats, one dog, and one husband. Order signed copies of her books here.
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