At the end of each year, Door Is A Jar Magazine honors two contributors that best represented the year's submissions. Anyone who submits work to Door is a Jar Magazine has a chance at winning this award.

The 2020 winners of the DIAJ Award are Barbara Daniels and Toby Wallis. Their poetry and nonfiction pieces captured a sense of confronting the unexpected that we felt really summarized the confusion and intensity we all had to adjust to this year.

When judging for this award, we look for pieces that are accessible and relatable in a way that goes hand in hand with one of our core values — the value of making our publication open and available to everyone. 

Barbara Daniels

Barbara Daniels’ book Rose Fever was published by WordTech Press. Talk to the Lioness is forthcoming from Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press. Daniels’ poetry has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Mid-American Review, and other journals. She received three fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

 My Poem Kicks Your Door Down
by Barbara Daniels

It wields a chainsaw, twirls

a bandana, flaunts blue paint


all over its face. My poem runs

naked through your neighborhood. 


It tears up your list of goals

and study questions. It makes


a sad girl laugh. Stop searching

your body for some dread


disease. My poem blew here

from another planet. It’s been


out delivering babies, wiping

their bloody heads clean.

Toby Wallis

Toby Wallis lives a quiet life in Suffolk, UK, where he reads, writes, and maintains a life-long interest in unusual videogames.

My History as a Bystander to Automotive Arson

by Toby Wallis

The first time a car was set on fire directly outside my home was one night in October 1997. I was in my student dorm when the fire alarm sounded. I opened the door and the other residents were squinting in the light and covering their ears. We looked at each other, waiting for someone to know what to do.

Outside, two cars were on fire, each engulfed in blue and orange flames that stretched up the sides of the building. There was one on either side of the car park, each roughly mirroring the other. The symmetry had unsettled one of the assembled crowds.

“We've been targeted!” he shouted.

He was convinced that students were a hated underclass, and that this attack represented the beginning of what was to come.

“They're sending a message,” he shouted. “This is how it starts.”

We stood around at an incautious distance. I had pulled on yesterday’s clothes, but others were in their pyjamas, bare foot on the cold concrete. Occasionally we heard cracks as bits of the cars shattered. The heat caused one of the car horns to begin sounding continuously, as though screaming for help. A tire burst. The car slumped.

We found out later we hadn't been targeted. Four or five other cars around the town had been set on fire in the same manner. Someone had gone on a spree, dropping lit matches down petrol caps. We were no one to them. We were just on their way.

One of the cars owners had been in his room smoking marijuana with a friend when the alarm went off but had been slow to respond. When he eventually came out and saw his car thickly wrapped in flames, he pointed at it and started laughing. A moment later his friend came stumbling out and was stopped dead by what he saw. The wild flames flickered in his glassy eyes as the horror of the scene slowly dawned on him.

“Oh no!” he shouted. “My Bowie tape!”


The second time a car was set on fire outside my home was in 2008, shortly after Kerry and I had moved into our new house on the Alcatraz estate. We knew the estate had a bad reputation — Alcatraz was not its real name — but the house was close to the train station, and large for the rent. People asked if we were sure we wanted to live there but we were blasé.

“It's fine,” we said, “we're not in the centre. We're out on the edge.”

The house wasn't as good as it seemed. On the day we moved in we discovered most of the ceiling in the hallway was missing. We stood looking up at the exposed pipes, wondering how we hadn't noticed it before. From our bedroom window we saw that our neighbour had fortified his wall with a heavy coil of barbed wire. Barbed wire that would later rip a three-inch tear into our cat’s leg.

We were in bed reading quietly when we heard the continuous sound of a car horn. We looked at each other and rolled our eyes. Twenty seconds later it was still going so we got up to look out the window and saw a car behind our garden wall, engulfed in flames.

Kerry called the emergency services but was the third person to have called, so she hung up and we leaned on the windowsill, watching the car burn.

“Electrical fault?” she said.

I shook my head. “Someone dropped a match down the petrol cap.”

“How do you know?”

“I've seen this before.”

Eventually the horn went dead. A tire popped. A window shattered. We went back to our books.

The burned-out husk of the car hung around for a while. I walked past it each morning. The charred paint had split and cracked, all the windows were shattered, and a small Police Aware sign had been stuck to what was left. It stayed like that for about a week, then one evening it was gone. All that remained was an ashy silhouette on the ground.


The third time a car was set on fire outside my home was in 2009. We had moved out of Alcatraz as soon as our lease was up and rented a house in a nicer part of town. The house was smaller, the rent was about the same, but as we stood in the kitchen with the landlord discussing the lease Kerry suddenly shushed us.

“Listen,” she said.

We listened.

“What are we listening to?” the landlord asked.

“Bird song.”

There hadn't been birds in Alcatraz. We hadn't realised they were missing until they were back. We agreed the lease without haggling the rent.

Behind the house was a long footpath, enclosed beneath a canopy of trees with houses on one side, a retirement home on the other. One Friday night I was playing a video game in the dark when the room seemed to lighten. I opened the curtains and on the footpath was a column of flames spitting and thrashing through the branches of the trees.

Someone had stolen a car, squeezed it down the footpath, set fire to it and left. We called the emergency services and went outside to help the fire engine find its way. When it arrived, we pointed them toward the footpath and stood back as they manoeuvred as close as they could, stopped by the concrete bollards that the stolen car had circumvented.

We returned to the house and watched from the bedroom window. The fire was wild. Bits of the overhanging trees had caught light. Fences on both sides buckled from the heat.

“Do you get the feeling we're being targeted?” I said.

“Don't be ridiculous,” Kerry said.

Outside, the firefighters screamed instructions to each other over the roar of the fire. Bits of the car exploded and cracked. Black smoke rose thickly through the trees. The horn cried out, and then was silent.

Past Winners

2019: Kateryna Bortsova, J Mari

2018: Bill Wolak, Nora Seilheimer

2017: Betsy Jenifer, Lauren Scharhag

2016: Valerie Westmark, Drew Pisarra


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