Poem of the Year:
May 2015-Apr 2016
Judged by Gerald Fleming
1ST PLACEby Lisa Megraw
Wild Poetry Forum
Yesterday l pressed open the wings of a starling
and found amongst the hem of its feathers the loosest notes
of my history, shadow torn as if tattered by the wind.
Webs spooled over hedgerows. My grandmother’s coat
buttoned against the wind as l gathered pine cones, armfuls
of fern. A flight of sparrows following a path of light
through the thicket as the days shuffled, rearranged themselves,
and the metallic tang of moss and bark struck almost like a match
across the tongue, but not quite, because loss is like that,
incomplete, legs itching to move but with nowhere to go.
School shoes closed like caves for the body to fall into.
Because isn’t memory a coalescence of only a fist
full of moments like a glass of water at my grandfather’s bed
that moved against the arc of the sun then shattered;
the flowers inside his chest breaking
one by one as he coughed over their blossoms.
And the wind shaken by the branches outside
riding up over the lane like the crest of a wave to bury
us to our knees because isn’t the act of loss more like a gravity
that can take you over. The heart of a starling burning
through your chest.
This was a poem that I kept circling back to, a poem that rewards successive readings. The title put me off in its broadness, but ultimately it’s about not the accuracy or unreliability of memory, but of memory’s randomness, its subtle & uncontrollable insistence. A writer’s recounting of dreams and memories is always a challenge: how to interest the reader in something so personal without engaging in a recounting so solipsistic the reader’s attention is immediately lost? This poem transcends that worry, and its language brings us into it, though it, concretely; we trust the voice, trust the occasionally odd syntax, trust its tenderness. --Gerald Fleming
2ND PLACEby Judy Kaber
In the photograph my father’s fingers sink
into the fur on my mother’s jacket. It’s 1942
and he stands in his sailor’s uniform, complete
with hat, at what might be taken for parade rest,
one arm neatly tucked behind his back, except
for the fact that his other arm holds my mother
tight, as if to steady her, to steady them both.
She smiles fiercely, leans close, clutching
her purse, her eyes slits against the bright
autumn sun, against the newness of marriage,
against a war that seems like it will never be
done. They’re not alone. A shadow thrown
to the right might be someone drinking
from a can or cup, and bottom left the anonymous
photographer, now long gone, awkward bones most
likely buried in some bowl of earth. My parent’s own
shadows truncated, falling off the curb onto the road,
already moving with the sun into the unknown.
Above them, a streetlight globe like a blessing,
across the street a brick archway, apartment entrance,
what might be two children, standing alone.
I admire this poem’s plainness, its directness. Ekphrastic pieces often are too dramatic for my tastes, but this poem succeeds in showing us the photograph (in my view, at least, a black & white photo) in chiaroscuro, light & shadow all-important in the emotional tone, the elements of marriage and war existing in plays of shadow & light. I loved it that—except for the mother’s smile and eyes narrowed vs. the sun—no faces are “painted in.” We’re left to do that for ourselves. There’s skilled language in this poem, internal rhyme natural and not excessive. Light itself seems on the move, and the simple, dramatic ending, “what might be two children, standing alone” is striking, sending us toward the future in seven words. --Gerald Fleming
3RD PLACEby Sue Kay
When I arrived at the Gare de Lyon in October 1906, I had 50 francs to my name, knew nobody and barely spoke French.
Being what I am, my solitude acknowledges
your own. I do not speak French. The pogroms
have sent their matte daubs to canvases like refugees
in grey north light, Archipenko, Lipchitz, Survage,
Chagall, Soutine. The smell of maroger medium
like sex, toxic but flexible enough for the rough trade
of art. What dusty harlequin pirouettes in the dream
beneath the dome of Sacré Coeur when it is dark
and all strangers belong to its shadow? The point
of paint is to illuminate and all the ladies in green
grow light with the unease of being known.
Age has its own idiom which does not translate
into the language of fashion. The last word on attitude
drapes flesh with inflection, folds the nude into a question.
Haven’t yet seen the documentary of the same name, but I don’t think I needed to in order to enter this poem. It helps to know a little about the artists named—immigrants all (God, I hope anyone reading this who doesn’t know of Soutine will seek out his work), and the poet’s motif of toxicity (via maroger medium) is efficient, understated and powerful. We get a sense in this poem both of the freedom (sexual & otherwise) and restrictions of the age, and the poems final phrase captures both gracefully, elegantly. --Gerald Fleming
HONORABLE MENTIONby Julene T. Weaver
Istanbul, in twelve days, we began to learn
your secrets, passageways that led to the places
we sought. We found the Komondo baroque-style
stairway, a shortcut that enters the alley directly
below the Galata Tower. We learned how to spot
your street signs, hidden on the sides of buildings.
We discovered the alleys that dip into gullies
with gold nuggets at the end—The Museum
of Innocence—a treasure that won the 2014
Small Museum Award, sits in a flood pocket.
We hiked your seven hills, wore out our feet against
the cracks and unexpected sharp drops on nearly
non existent sidewalks. We survived, learned to watch
each step, walking downhill fast like the natives, we dodged
traffic to save our lives. We found your tool district
near the Arap Mosque, Catholic in the 1300s, when you
were Constantinople. We stumbled upon the Jewish
Museum, unmarked and obscure on a dead end
with no name. We crossed your passages of water
and hiked the L.E.D. hills to the Pera Museum. We traveled
from the Old City to the modern city on your tram.
Each Mosque is an oasis of quiet, the only places to settle
and rest from the noise filled streets, second hand smoke,
and carbon dioxide, our throats rasped into cough spasms,
but we found elderberry pastilles in your pharmacies with
crosses that quieted the burn. You have your cures.
We learned this monster city will not be tamed,
too many invasions and transgressions, too many lancets
at its own inhabitants: Armenians, Greek Orthodox, Christians,
and even its own Islamic Ottoman Sultans,
the heads rolled and they still echo against
cobblestones down your narrow streets. Cars
and motorcycles whiz between our footsteps.
We entered you innocent, curious, with respect
we exit wiser, stronger, with a need to recover.
We met retired expatriates who stay so they do not
get lazy or complacent, this city keeps them jumping
for survival. We found art that speaks the body
inside out. Found the pain we rarely see that resides
in each of us. Istanbul, you have the offerings of any
large metropolis: a playpen for the rich, a battle
ground for the poor, a sledge hammer for the angry,
a spiritual haven for the prayers of the masses, for those
who go to the earth five times each day facing east,
for the Dervishes who sell their ritual dance prayer
to the tourists. You provide for the commercial and for
the Holy, you grabbed our hearts with each step
we walked your cobbled hills.
This is the first poem I’ve read, I think, that can serve as a travel guide! I now realize that my wife & I missed a few things in a visit to Istanbul some years ago, and I’ll keep this pithy piece on hand should we get a chance to go to that great city again. --Gerald Fleming