2010 Donald Justice Poetry Prize winner
Julie Kane, 2009 Donald Justice Poetry Prize winner (right) with Rhina Espaillat (left)
The poems in Audiation are steeped in the experience of classical music, as a performer, as one who loves a performer, and as a devoted listener. Ripe with sensual details and informed by wide knowledge, the poems are spririted as well as spiritiual. How lovely for a non-musician to watch the musician study a score while flying over Arkansas, in "Pianist in a Window Seat," as "Outside the window, / farmland ticks past in umber, / ivory-lined rectangles, / each box its own story..." Any reader who has sat in the uncomfrotable, nosebleed-high cheap ticket row of a concert hall will recognize the sensation described in the sonnet-like "On Hearing Schubert," when the houselights dim, the audience disappears, and "...as I sat on some some darkened shore, I watched / the long-delayed but inevitable sun / feel out again the lines of its horizon, / and I found I'd let my sorrows go." Here the concert pianist is understood so deeply that the poems can tell what his or her fingers dream while their owner sleeps. Moving easily between received forms and organic lines, the poems invite us to understand and savor the music.
Judge, 2013 Donald Justice Poetry Prize
by Anne-Marie Thompson
On Hearing Mozart
We've checked them fuming brightly, at the door;
hung up our glinting heraldries of war,
our laurel crowns and ermines of amour,
our selfish deities and avatars--
and for these breathless minutes, light descends
upon the naked house. The universe
is born in every chair. It glows, and ends.
We button up our lives, and then disperse
into the night and its inferior stars.
Oldest Mortal Myth
The precise gaze and chiseled language of the poems in Oldest Mortal Myth authoritatively convey a broad and deep knowledge. Whether a re-imagining a Greek myth in order to infuse it with contemporary pain, extending empathy and humorous Mitmenschkeit to both denizens and voyers of the world's freak-shows, or describing with wit and experience the spiritual affects of medical conditions, the book is infused with restrained but piercing emotion, a subtle metrical ear, and enough daring and wit to write in rhymed couplets with end-words like "ridicule" and "Olive Oyl." I also admire the refusal to take the obvious, easy, way. For instance, with the last line of "De Wallen, Amsterdam": "The moon above the spires, a sexless disk, / eyes us coolly as an odalisque." I so admire the refusal to make that last line scan as a perfect iambic pentameter line. It would be so easy; all you'd have to do is add the grammatical, but colloquial, "as." Which would have ruined the lines, and the poem. Oh, and the rhymes in the canzone! There's much to admire here, much to enjoy.
Judge, 2012 Donald Justice Poetry Prize
Oldest Mortal Myth
The baby, bath-time belly glistening, shows
his center mark, that cicatricial gash
the mystics contemplated as a rose,
omphalic core, a mandala. He'll splash
bright soapy rings and circlets in the tub.
His tummy glints round nuclei of light.
Leaning towards her slippery son to scrub,
the mother thinks of buds or seeds, the tight
and knotted body of an unhusked snail
when her hands glaze his perfect belly button.
And then he laughs, his small mouth like a bell.
She feels the resonance, its spreading sudden,
and reaching for the towel, feels the pull
of love like fossil pools -- deep, umbilical.
Heaven and Earth
"Western" literature begins, in the Iliad, with a clash of Occident and Orient, a fertile tension that Majmudar explores to explosive and imaginative effect in Heaven and Earth. In "Telemachus," the eponymous modern-day narrator from Ithaca, New York, seeks out his father-soldier who has disappeared in "wind-worn and war-winded Afghanistan," only to find him having gone native, "speaking cashual Pashto with his brothers." Poet-as-archeologist sifts through the layers of Troy in "Hysserlik Ghazal," whose self-contained couplets going over the same ground provie form is metaphor. The aftermath of Iraq and Afghanistan on US soldiers is explored with devastating, clear-eyed precision (a reminder that Majmudar comes from the tradition of poet-physician) in "The Walter Reed Sonnets." Though this book spans from Genesis to the present, from Afghanistan to America, from this world to the next, Majmudar is perhaps at his most engaging when charting a rocky personal georgraphy, family and fatherhood. "Two cultures make a diplomat / But cannot make a soul," he remarks, wryly. But Majmudar shows us they can also make something rarer: an original poet.
Judge, 2011 Donald Justice Poetry Prize
Heaven and Earth
Heavy water, holy water, we are weighed on
By your waterweight, your proton-
Poisoned fission vintage we dare not sip.
A drip weighs torrents on the tongue and lip.
Tritium, trinity water, three-in-one God's
Sweat condensed on a fuel rod's throb,
Heavy as falling heavens, you weigh kilotons,
You weigh the source sin rinsed into the font:
Biting the apple, splitting the forbidden atom
One crime committed in common with Adam.
Contamination, come and enter,
Spill in us and make us epicenter.
The taste of knowledge is the aftertaste of loss.
This sorrow bent the knees beneath the cross.
The Trials of Edgar Poe and Other Poems
One of the things I love about The Trials of Edgar Poe and Other Poems is how pop culture reference to the monsters and heroes of horror films, science fiction novels and television series, sprinkled throughout, are not glibly hip, but both personal and universalizing -- we see them for the modern mythology they are. The father of modern horror, Edgar Allan Poe, himself provides a thread running through this book-length meditation on adoption and identity, on love and heartbreak, alienation and belonging. "Hart Island," a multifacited long poem about New York City's potter's field, an island of the nameless and unclaimed dead, orphans, the homeless, convicts -- lies at the tell-tale heart of the book. Caught up in Balbo's fluent, contemporary vernacular, one tends to overlook the dizzying array of forms he employs it in: blank verse, ballade, ghazal, ottava rima, pantoum, villanelle, sestina, sonnet. That is also because these forms prove never to be mere clever exercises in technique; rather, we find they are vessles of almost uncontainable longing.
Judge, 2010 Donald Justice Poetry Prize
The Trials of Edgar Poe and Other Poems
The Invisible Man's Escape
After James Whale's 1933 classic
In that long moment, knowing the police
were near, the inn's proprietor still bleeding
from the push downstairs, my face still bandaged,
black sunglasses on, equipment damaged,
hope dashed, patrons risen at the noise
to call for my arrest, I felt a speeding,
sick sensation: mirrored in those eyes,
now black voids, was the answer, was the way
back that I'd sought and lost, the broken piece
I'd missed or thought mere accident, a stray
thread dangling carelessly....Worse was to know
my one escape was to unravel, now,
the gauze that gave me form: to feel not fear,
but only certainty that nothing's there.
Following the success of her first two volumes, Body and Soul and Rhythm and Booze, Julie Kane has written a brilliant new book that proves once again how surprisingly vital the sonnet can be. From the transgressive "Bitch" to "Mockingbird" with its "pretty girl in crosshairs of a gun," Kane's opening sequence parallels the jazz funeral's "March to the Graveyard," mordant without ever slipping into the maudlin, highly spiced and knowing.
In the book's second section, a "Hobo's Crown," we get a single life remembered--that of Robert Borsodi, a writer and independent theatrical impressario who made New Orleans his home and supported its artists. This "Eulogy" recalls the players and the coffeehouse where bare bones performances stood up against the violence of the world outside. Even here, of course, New Orleans is a storm-haunted city:
You never lived to see
the halls of Charity entombed with mold,
dead bodies strewn like roadkill in the streeets,
Borsodi's flooded like a toilet bowl.
Thank God for that at least. We miss your light,
warm as a campfire on a bitter night.
The third movement of a jazz funeral is "Cutting the Body Loose," in music an explosion of celebration., and here Kane's post-Katrina poems are fiercely unsentimental. Part elegy for a city and a way of life, part meditation on mortality and grace, this book is wonderfully, defiantly alive.
Judge, 2009 Donald Justice Poetry Prize
That mockingbird could make me paranoid,
the way he's always got his eyes on me
(as if he were a cop in unmarked car)
from hidden stakeouts in the dogwood tree.
He wants to be the first to grab the chunksof
desiccated fruit from millet seeds;
like Pavlov's dog inside a feather-suit,
he's learned that I appear before he feeds.
I wonder, does he ever take a break,
relax his vigil, watch the butterflies?
Some nights I wake and shudder in my bed,
imagining those fixed, unblinking eyes,
or flash back suddenly to 21,
a pretty girl in crosshairs of a gun.
Two Men Fighting with a Knife
In spite of its rueful undercurrent of mortality, Two Men Fighting with a Knife is one of the wittiest books I have read inyears,full of an active thrust and parry. John Poch mines these poems from a rich vein of Americanvernacular. He's a raconteur ofTexas and "the old west ins and outs," offering a range of moods from anger to hilarity and grief, hewing close to actual lives, surprising us with crackerjack phrasing and vital talk. Who would have though poetry could have the seriousness of a knife fight staged with such comic aplomb?
Reading these poems is like listening to an eccentric talker who happens to enjoy rhyme, knows a lot of genuine characters, and might be a bit of a character himself. There is an invective against the cops of Denton, Texas, a sonnet crown about spinal surgery, a sestina devoted to "Folks who Never Got their Due." On the rare occastions when Poch indulges literary allusion, it's always with reference to real life, as when a stain on a wooden lamp evokes a beautiful meditation about Shakespear's Prospero and Ariel. That interplay of earth and air, reality and imagination, infuses every poem in Poch's new book, so unpretentious in its knowledge of human limits. As he writes in a marvelous poem called "Thirst": "If this is failure, wait. If success, / become the flower of a lantern looking / for its girl..."
Poch's vision and versions of America stay with you. This is a book to re-read with the pleasure of recognition.
Judge, 2008 Donald Justice Poetry Prize
Two Men Fighting with a Knife
by John Poch
The Ghost Town
It need not be a desiccated wreck
of boards, completely uninhabited,
adobe bricks regressed to mud, hay. Heck,
it might be verdant and jackrabbited.
The wind might not lament; the gift shop door
could jingle bells, the jasmine candles wafting.
Beyond some seniors at the conveninece store,
you might observe a fisherman shoplifting.
But say it's vacant and bunch grass gray. Then torch
an image, scent, or song from your present life
to reconstruct the step, the stairs, the porch,
the house, town, two men fighting with a knife.
Much life the architecture of a sobnnet:
a step, and suddenly you die upon it.
Kim Bridgford In the Extreme: Sonnets about World Records
“She’s done it! Kim Bridgford now holds the world’s record for composition of sonnets on the topic of world records. She is also the very first poet to rhyme ‘connoisseurs’ with ‘chili peppers.’ In the Extreme is a wonderfully entertaining volume, humorous, wry, and appreciative. But it is much more than a collection of ‘paper quips.’ ‘Anything is possible when mind’s put to it.’ Here is strong evidence for that observation.” -Fred Chappell
“Kim Bridgford’s In the Extreme would be a considerable achievement for its simply being a flawlessly realized sonnet sequence; when you actor in that every poem is inspired by an entry in The Guinness Book of World Records it climbs to the level of tour de force. But when the poet devotes the last few sonnets to the life of Mike, the chicken who holds the record for having lived longest with his head cut off, the poem rises to a level of humanity (or chickenity) that is far above the usual plane. An amazing collection, full of wry humor and not a little pathos.” -R.S. Gwynn
The Most Sonnets Ever Written about
World Records. Like sleeping on beds of nails,
Holding rattlesnakes (plural) in your mouth,
Or hosting races between speedy snails,
This is not the sort of thing you ought
To let your children (or your neighbors)
Try at home, whether supervised or not,
Lest they end in a clinic, or the papers.
To save you from taking so great a risk
Or going to such trouble, Kim Bridgford
Has taken on the Herculean task.
This feat, which no one else has conquered—
No one from Alaska to Madagasc-
Ar—is (Guinness take note!) its own world record.
In the Extreme: Sonnets about World Records By Kim Bridgford June 2007 ISBN: 978-0-97859-978-2
The Most Lightning Strikes Survived
That would be seven. Try explaining this
When you are moving forward for a kiss:
That you can take a hundred million volts
And then go on. You have a kiss that melts.
While others hide in basements or the tub,
You’re in the open, where the sky can grab
That part of you that sizzles to attract.
You are a strange and undeniable fact.
And do we want this jolt of sex and love?
We say this love will kill us, but inside
We dream of what has been electrified.
We place our bets on temperate love to save,
Yet turn to see you with your hair on fire,
A symbol of our yearning and desire.
Gravity's Dream: New Poems and Sonnets
"Kate Light's third collection, Gravity's Dream, represents personal poetry at its best.... That she sounds like no one else has been a given since her first book appeared a decade ago. It is indeed rare that a poet's heart has been worn on her sleeve so lightly as in this gravity-defying volume." R.S. Gwynn
"Kate Light has been one of my favorite poets for years and years now. To my eye and ear, she operates as a full master, able to somehow communicate in three lines a depth of heartache and clarity that it might take a novelist three hundred pages to convey. Her work give me shivers." Elizabeth Gilbert, Author of Eat, Pray, Love
Gravity's Dream: New Poems and Sonnets by Kate Light June 2006 ISBN: 0-9785997-0-5
A CLEAR CONSCIENCE
doesn't mean just cleared of guilt,
but cleared of influence--to wake in a waft
of light that your own consciousness has spread;
when no one else's blood, or brainwave, has been spilt,
and you're following the thread of your own craft,
vibration left on the pillow when you went to bed.
Possessed of your own self, as it were--not forever,
but for one clear day; waking to make choices,
make songs, or muse on the union that will sway
you when you are ready, if you are ever
ready. The question is: how many voices
can you listen to, transcribe, argue with, obey?
You are told you are elusive, evasive,
impossible--and the arguments are so persuasive.