Wednesday, January 30, 2008
( Voices Israel memebers Netanya, Israel)
Here are the winning and honorable mention poetry selections for the Rueben Rose Poetry Award 2007 ( sponsored by "Voices Israel") which I had the pleasure to judge--Doug Holder
Fish Eye by Zvi A. Sesling 1st Prize
Once, in the home of a Filipino, I was
served soup with the head of a fish
floating in the middle, the eye staring
up, the same as in a pile of the dead at
Auschwitz, the center of the eye forming
a question mark asking, Why me? Why am
I here? What have I done to earn this infamous
plight? The eye doesn't see, yet it tells
of surprise, shock, fear, anguish and pain,
not love, happiness or humor.
The eye has seen too much, not enough.
Questions are answered, question remain.
In the end humanity
consumes fish, consumes humanity.
Paris Unsaid by Celia Merlin 2nd Prize
I sent my boys off to Paris today.
Twenty-two and twenty,
the same age as I,
when captured by
the Seine's rainbow twinkle,
They are cynically young, from
press keys and wires,
with gadgets literally
out of their ears.
They will turn the same corners,
eat the same bread;
their boundless dreams ,
as green as mine at that time.
Anxiously I wait to see how they fared
away from their text message world.
Will they feel autumn slide through
the narrow back alleys?
Will they smell lovers' sighs in small dim cafes?
Will their sneakered feet remember
the cobblestone, worn and uneven
from horses past and sports cars present?
Will they tell of glances and blushing
and wet autumn leaves and cool white marble,
of ponds, round and shallow with toy boats that float
as children jump past with their plaid woven scarves and
their small yapping dogs?
I have walked them to school-
these two young men.
I have taught them to swim and to drive.
But I can't help but wonder and worry a bit-
have I taught them to hear what's unsaid?
72 VIRGINS by Reuven Goldfarb, 3rd Prize
--an arrow in the heart of the Intifada--
"Fanatics have their dreams, wherewith they weave
a paradise for a sect…."
Keats, "The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream"
When you complete your mission
and arrive in the place of Judgment,
you will be greeted
by seventy-two beautiful virgins
who won't like you.
They'll talk only to each other,
form hostile little cabals,
engage in whispering campaigns
to discuss your every earthly peccadillo,
and, most of all, mock your ambition
to be honored as a martyr.
No martyr, they will say, ever won his crown
by murdering innocent people
You lost your life in vain.
Poem by Wendy Blumfield 4th Prize
PASSIONS By Wendy Blumfield
The music teacher said sing silently
And not to let my voice`s passion soar to the sky
A voice that held no tune.
The dancing teacher said go home you are a waste of space
As in passion arms reach to the sky
And my plump overweight little legs march on.
My grandfather gave me a little wooden desk
And I wrote my passions in ink
That stained my fingers and spilt down my white school blouse.
God gave me four children
And I fed them with passion
From those plump overweight breasts
Sang them to sleep with the passion
Of my voice that held no tune
And danced with them with passion
through the autumn leaves
And the joy of the windswept beach.
MY FATHER'S ANKLES by Donna Bechar
Fine-boned like a thoroughbred's
With the grace of a gazelle and a cheetah's speed
Quick as clippers in a barber's hand
Svelte as the quiet of snowfall on velvet
Flying across the backyard lawn like
A magician's sleight of hand
Bidding many farewells and leaving awe
In their wake and wonder as their legacy
These were my father's ankles of yesteryear
These days, the gas pedal carries him
Speedily to his destinations
Replacing those chiseled contours
Now swollen beyond recognition
His legs are maps of torn-down byways
And too-narrow highways
Preventing the traffic of blood and fluids
Their fluidity and refuge, instead
Bottlenecking, slow passage and nowhere to go
Propped up on sofa cushions while watching tv
In their inertia and repose, I see through time
To when they were ready for action in an instant
I see them when they were like spinning tops
Dizzying in games of tag, softball and soccer
Becoming fins in our swimming pool
Becoming wings in an over-the-fence leap
And for fleeting instances, I think I see them
Wink as they leave a trail of mischievous
Today, my father's ankles can manage a sweet nostalgic smile
As they plod like grounded mortals
But I keep seeing them in their Olympic form
Two Zinnias by Helen Bar-Lev, honorary mention
Two zinnias in a glazed vase
clipped by nuns' careful scissors,
are the only decoration in this spartan room
in a convent in Jerusalem
but it is clean, the mattress comfortable
flagstone floors, yellow- and red-ochre,
have been polished to a gleam by passing shoes
these one hundred years, even more
We have returned to Jerusalem
after an absence of some months –
a jittery city, it is more intolerable than ever
horns constantly honk, faces do not smile
congestion and pollution, agitation,
congregate in its centre
together with beggars,
street musicians, religious Jews, Arabs
an incongruent conglomeration
which beckons in a manner I cannot fathom
and repulses with vengeance,
as though one reaction triggers its opposite,
a contradiction of emotions
that is disturbing considering I lived here
for so long and loved it with passion,
wrote love poems in dedication,
painted its landscapes from every angle
until my ability wilted and the brush
could no longer respond to my commands
So that earlier today when I walked
through this city in the heat of its summer
and watched dusk extinguish the gold from its stones,
I noticed a nostalgia for it – for the once-Jerusalem,
almost expecting the present
to disappear behind a curtain
and lo! enter the Jerusalem of old,
the city I knew and yearned to return to,
smaller, happier, more beautiful
These are my thoughts now, late,
in this sanctuary amidst the city's insanity,
this secluded quaint convent,
where quail and jay and gay flowers reside,
whose energies are lovely, light,
a place that does not disturb
nor disappoint my memories
While the two zinnias in the vase
blink red and pink
in the heat of the night
and soothe me
Some Things, You Just Have to Learn For Yourself
by David Silverman, Israel, honorary mention
The doctors must have thought we couldn't take it,
because they didn't tell us what we needed to know.
Or else they didn't know themselves. We figured it
out, though, on our own. Cancer gets a kick out of
pulling the covers off late at night. Cancer has a bad
attitude and doesn't play well with others. Cancer is
a sliver of glass that disappears into the fleshy part of
your foot. Cancer is burnt toast, moldy fruit, the wine
that's turned. Cancer is the job that should have been
yours, but went to that idiot in Sales. Cancer is a wet
knot in your shoelace, a size 17 neck in a size 16 shirt.
Cancer is termites in the wall, a pregnant rat in the attic.
Cancer is a dead battery on the coldest day of the year.
Cancer is an airball, a fourth quarter fumble, a called third
strike with the bases full. Cancer is a migratory bird,
minding its own business, sucked into the engine of a
jumbo jet. Cancer is the unexpected thunderclap overhead
and the storm you thought was miles away, is here.
BIG GREEN GARDEN by Rena Navon, honorary mention
With a simple tool, our patient, steady gardener
cuts out shadows and insinuates some sunny plants.
Accomplice, sharp blades snip away the marginalia.
Mesmerized by shaded head and sun-glassed focus
I marvel how his suntanned hands don't make a sound
that doesn't satisfy the purpose of his metal sheers.
Ignoring all distractions as he cuts away the ugly edges,
this worker's so in tune with good performance as the blades
slide smoothly, my questions lose their meaning. Eyes ascend,
together with the green material he is harvesting away.
Aspiring to give some form and meaning too,
I was sitting and writing and rewriting,
forgetting how to do it like other artists do.
With my attention in his hands, he keeps cutting
away lines before I get to write them down.
I fail as a hypnotic patient fails to act.
As long as a magician in my garden
monopolizes my natural view,
will it take all day
to finish up this poem?
Once you were my brave young boy
battering the gates of mighty Troy
marching in a vast crusade
licking loving getting laid
bending heaven to her knees.
Your bulging blade however embarrassed me
standing up in church and school
waiving that defiant tool
in front of my red face.
I smacked it with a stick to keep that prick in place.
We were best of friends
but in the end you stretched too far and I lost everything:
wives kids house jobs.
Now a gross belly droops across my belt.
It's a blinding piece of meat.
When I aim for the stars I piss on my feet.
The ultimate joke and ultimate rule
is every man's a god damned fool.
Old time warriors weary of this fate.
They sit and plot the end of days
then viciously hallucinate.
Rise up my dying dick and rally to the throne
and I will fight my way to hell and back
loyal to the bone.
Wouldn't that be biblical
you and I
to ride into the holy wars and never die.
Counting… by Rena Navon honorary mention
The sky, high taut umbrella, begins to close
around this farmhouse for another country night.
Cleaved feet of sheep get torn from pasture.
I beat an echo to their injured bleating;
my pleading eye skims the flock until the last one
is behind the wall of straw….
When will I realize counting lambs white as rich
sunshine, at the shore of my even white pillow?
Where my brethren lie, are there meadows more?
Abide there in your beauty, Disheveled Eternity,
before stored rain I was amply spared all of my life
comes crashing down on me with all of its might.
Little Departures by Elisheva Gal, honorary mention
One commences with trifles like,
let's say, a single farewell a day,
one small, insignificant departure
so as not to create
an abrupt colossal deficiency
One may, for example, depart
from the glitter in the eye
from the elasticity of the figure
Then – from the little coffee shop,
the old school, the beach,
from the lounge furniture set,
the crammed bookcase
and favourite weekly magazine
of so many years.
Last, one says goodbye
to all those who are dearest
one by one
Bidding farewell by installments
makes it less difficult,
in fact it's quite sensible.
At the very end one says goodbye
THE CHILLED TREE by Rena Navon, honorary mention
Day's vulnerable colors don't collapse
until the last tree chills along with the rest.
The day-old sun drops and bleeds
ashamedly under the swollen ground.
A woman turning toward her weak left side
has given up on the indomitable right, "predictable"
as an ocean tide. Delivering life's waters into earth's aging arms,
she ends by hiding her wrinkling hands under the shade.
As the last light gets doused, the woman's neighbors
distract her by examining the planets: "See?
The problem is far away, way out there," a hand pointed
like a brim lowered to keep the circulating truth away.
When their husbands went off to war, serialized weapons lifted,
a wife shared a pact never to cry before the funeral
as if they could not accept that death will come.
Uniform faces resist any tear and a small,
withdrawn faith holds their old belief dear.
The evening colors are thinning together into the dirt.
Ancient wisdom dribbles down their long necks,
darkening their hard nipples staring like cut stones
through shirts hanging down to their soggy moccasins.
Life's witnesses disqualified such a matriarch with her pains
as profound as the green, writhing moon long ago.
Does this trooper receive more than a premonition of death
before hard-metal turns into its red, liquid opposite?
Is that ball buried under a chilled tree the last sun?
the bone by Rena Navon, honorary mention
I used to force past loves to dream
back to me, their slippery hands
as open as the ocean, fingers
numbering greater than ravenous
fish. But diving has taught me since
that their pretty, lustrous orange cover
seems, not is I only saw it from one
side of the sea's latitudinal posture.
Now I wait, watching for them to swallow
bait and get served by willing waiters at
tables set with elegant glasses and able
tools to turn their scaled bodies into meals.
Their spiny substance is but a nuisance we
remove like surgeons careful not to swallow
bones on the shore of inhaling-bliss,
enjoying the food time has made of them.
Monday, January 28, 2008
LIVING IN STORMS. Contemporary Poetry and the Moods of Manic Depression. Edited by Thom Schramm. (Eastern Washington University Press Spokane, Washington 2008) $24.
The “black dogs” of depression are never far outside our gate, as Winston Churchill once wrote. The euphoria of mania and the freefall of depression are known in the field as “manic depression.” This rapid cycling tornado of mental illness has affected (according to recent studies) poets and writers to a greater degree than the general population. In fact in the New York Times awhile back it was reported that poets and writers, and particularly poets, have a shorter lifespan than the rest of the masses. Could it be we are more prone to suicide or have we just forgotten to take our daily dose of statins?
Having worked at the renowned Boston-area psychiatric hospital: McLean Hospital for the past twenty-five years, I have witnessed mental illness in all its infinite variety, from the locked ward to the outpatient milieu. McLean Hospital itself has a history of “thoroughbred mental cases” as Robert Lowell put it in his poem: “Waking In The Blue.” (A poem that is set at Bowditch Hall at McLean where I worked for a number of years.) Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell, and I am told John Berryman have been hospitalized at McLean. Anne Sexton ran her famed poetry workshops on grounds and later was treated on the locked ward for a short period. A friend of mine who was a counselor on the ward she was housed on asked Sexton why she always wore sunglasses indoors. She replied, “ Because I am a poet of course.” I have also interviewed the social worker to Plath and Sexton: Lois Ames. Ames is a poet in her own right and wrote the introduction to Plath’s novel “The Bell Jar.” And more than this, I have been treated for depression myself. And as a poet, I can tell you there is nothing romantic or poetic about depression and mental illness. And if you have been through it, even if it has given you some good material, you wish that it never would rear its ugly head again. Unfortunately, especially among some younger poets, the “Mad” poet has been lionized, and drug and alcohol abuse viewed as necessary as a laptop or pen or pencil in the writers’ life. I say it ain’t so..
So when the distinguished Boston University professor and poet Tino Villanueva handed me “Living In Storms”, (at a meeting of the Boston-area writers’ group the “Bagel Bards,”) a collection of poetry having to do with contemporary poets whose lives have been some way touched by manic depression, I was intrigued.
And perhaps there is something about our dark natures that lends itself to art. In the foreword to the collection David Wojan quotes one of my favorite poets Philip Larkin:
“Happiness writes white. It’s very difficult to write about being happy. Very easy to write about being miserable. And I think writing about unhappiness is the source of my popularity, if I have any—after all, most people are unhappy, don’t you think?”
I was happy to find in this collection that there were many poets I have read with, booked for events, interviewed, etc… over the years like: Lyn Lifshin, Daniel Hoffman, Robert Pinsky, Steve Cramer, and of course Tino Villanueva.
I think the poems in this collection capture the true tragedy of the illness through art not clinical reportage. The poems here capture the maw of the depression; with the poets’ struggle with his or her self, the world-at-large; the claustrophobic tunnel vision, with no light in sight. And it also covers the sizzle and no steak that takes the poet racing to the heights, only to drop like a dead weight.
Hayden Carruth in his poem “ Depression,” captures the relentless cycles of nature, and depression itself:
“ We have tried hard, have labored against the seasons/ like the geese, year after year, against mania, fear, / depression, death in the heart/ the endless mockery/of the children in our minds, we have hurled fat insults/ at each other/ have hurled silence, the same/occult and cloudy words over and over in the wet/ wind, we have persisted, tattered and worn out/ and sorry. / Thank God we love each other and can hold/ our tongues and go to bed, otherwise this/would be intolerable, traveling so far, so long, and never/
Arriving anywhere. Nor do the geese. / Nor the seasons.”
And in Tino Villanueva’s poem “Shaking Off the Dark” Villanueva, like a dyed-in-the-wool pugilist fights through the tight wrap of darkness.
mad-eyed from told formulas
bound to rule my easy ways,
I look, I see,
but fail once more to know.
Such rites of life
can waste the wit;
can be like strictures
rushing to the head.
Mine is a palpable body
that cannot stand itself.
Yet, a rebellion overtakes the mind
the kind that breaks the shadow’s hold:
I ram a fist into the howl of the wind,
shake off the dark locked
within the hell of these rare depths.
The common street
and shifting sky become a song.”
Also in this collection are poems by William Matthews, Jane Kenyon, Liz Rosenberg, C.K. Williams, Leo Connellan, and many others.
Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/ Jan. 2008
Sunday, January 27, 2008
These reviews are in the Winter 2007/8 edition of The Main Street Rag.... http://mainstreetrag.com
OF All THE MEALS I HAD BEFORE: POEMS ABOUT FOOD AND EATING
By Doug Holder
Cervena Barva Press ( 2007) 23 pages $7.
NO ONE DIES AT THE AU BON PAIN
By Doug Holder
Sunnyoutside (2007) 28 pages $8
ISBN 1-934513008, Poetry
Aside from being the founder, publisher, and co-editor of the prestigious and influential Ibbetson Street Press, Doug Holder writes poetry with a passion and insight that deserves prestige and influence all its own.
Take, for instance, “Of All The Meals I Had Before: Poems About Food and Eating,” a work with an organic feel surprising for a chapbook. Among some odes to nostalgic eateries like “Last Night at the Wursthaus” and “At Benson’s Deli,” Holder ponders the silly—“Milk Duds”—and the sublime—“Portrait of My Mother During Her Solitary Meal.” His eye for the rattling image drives many of the poems, like “Eating Out” where he observes: “As the Latino/scrapes the masticated/bone and marrow/into a bloody bin/ and flashes a gold-toothed smile,/at the chef/ whose cleaver/tears through a prime cut--/then holds some/fraction of a gelatinous liver/quivering in his hands…” What makes his work so enjoyable is not only his well-described world but also the fun he has with it, as when he ends the same poem with the line,” “Meanwhile I order desert.” The book flirts with food and sex, comparing breastfeeding and sucking on a straw or rotisserie chickens and pornographic images, until it climaxes in the final poem “Cannibalism,” that begins:
“And what could be more intimate?/ To deflesh a skull/ crack a femur/ to get down/ to the very marrow/ Is there a greater/ act of love?”
His other book “No One Dies At The Au Bon Pain,” doesn’t hold together as well, but it is no less engaging and accessible. The topics are self reflection and relationships, especially those that end. He still exercises that eye for the absurd amid the mundane, as in “Public Restrooms” where :”
“ I once viewed them as religious places,/ men with their backs to me/ in front of urinals/ hands clasped together/ at their crotch/ as if in prayer.” His writing here, though, is less witty than straight to the bone, the bone an image he returns to in several poems.
The two books together show Doug Holder to be a poet of the people, not absorbed in navel gazing language games but reaching out and shaking readers awake.”
S. Craig Renfroe, Jr.