Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: A Year in “Review”

Dear Friends of Eretz,

2015 was a banner year for Songs of Eretz.  The year saw over 200 poems published or reprinted.  There were 52,000 visits to the website--an average of 1,000 visits per week!  And the year also saw the launching of my own personal poetry webpage, Steves of Grass, separating my personal weblog from Poetry Review and making the Review website more streamlined and easier to navigate.

This year’s poetry contest was wildly popular and a successful fund-raiser.  Scores of poets participated, and we were able to offer double the prize money of last year (a full one thousand dollars).  The vast majority of poems submitted were of particularly high quality, and I had the privilege of providing personal responses to all 340 of them.  And, although there will be only one winner (to be announced January 1, 2016), dozens of entries have seen or will see publication or reprinting in Songs of Eretz Poetry Review.  Former Oklahoma Poet Laureate Carol Hamilton did a wonderful job as guest judge and provided personal, individual feedback to the nine finalists and winner.  I extend a heartfelt thanks to all participants--your outpouring of support was gratifying, validating, and truly humbling.

2016 will see some exciting changes in the Review.  While the annual poetry contest will continue to accept reprints, all poems that will appear in the Review will be previously unpublished (with the exception of a few reprints already in the publishing queue before this change was made).  Most exciting of all, while the Review will continue to accept unsolicited submissions, the poetry of a group of twelve up-and-coming poets will be routinely featured.  These poets were personally invited by me to consider Songs of Eretz as a steady publishing venue for their work and have made commitments to submit at least two poems per poet per month.  The names of these “Frequent Contributors” will be announced in early January 2016, and their biographies will be prominently featured on the webpage.

The coming year’s annual poetry contest is slated to open around September and will offer a prize of at least one thousand dollars.  We are still searching for a guest judge at this time.  A modest honorarium is attached to the position.  If you believe you are qualified to be our guest judge or know someone who is, please let me know  

All the best for a happy New Year,
Steven Wittenberg Gordon, MD

Poem of the Day: “Kitchen Comment” by Pamela Washington

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Kitchen Comment” by Pamela Washington.  Ms. Washington lives in Oklahoma.

Kitchen Comment
Pamela Washington
His off-hand words
(Something about his
mother’s being better)
Gave me a paper cut
Right on the heart.

A slight wound,
It hurt like a gash;
It bled into
My ability to finish dinner
Roast—his favorite—burnt.

Later, I couldn’t stand
His weight on it.
Passion, salty with desire,
Stung.  I off-handedly
Commented on tiredness.

The scar will be sensitive for a while.

Poet's Notes:  This poem explores a moment in a dysfunctional relationship and how even an off-hand comment can have ramifications. The idea came to me after suffering a particularly “brutal” paper cut and thinking about how something really so inconsequential was going to cause me pain, because it was on the very tip of my finger—where I feel the world.  As the poem developed, I connected the idea of a minor comment causing pain with the creating and sharing of food, which is also symbolic of fellowship and relationship, and how in dysfunctional relationships the anger and pain could “bleed” over into this everyday ritual.

Editor’s Note:  I am sure that many will identify with the theme of this one. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Poem of the Day: “In Española, NM” by Pamela Washington

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “In Española, NM” by Pamela Washington.  Ms. Washington lives in Oklahoma.

In Española, NM
Pamela Washington

At Delicia’s Restaurant,
The golden tamales are always warm
Served by orange aproned brown women with
Chili ristra red lips and
Black hair you can’t get out of a bottle,
Who smile for the tip.

Wooden tables with
Brightly colored plastic fiesta table cloths
Sit beside teal and lavender window frames
Jammed in adobe walls.

Delicia herself presides, green chili sauce
Ladle in one hand, the other scooping
Large portions of earth-toned beans
On to white plates for white people who
Pay for the local color.

Poet's Notes:  This poem was inspired during my first trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. I was struck by the color everywhere—even the doors of houses were bright turquoise, red, or yellow.  One afternoon, our group stopped in a small diner in Española that was brightly colored and advertised “Real New Mexican Cuisine.” However, it was clearly set-up for the tourists. 

As I sat waiting for the food, I imagined the owner sitting in the back, smiling at all of us out front who thought we were getting an “authentic” experience.  As I wrote this poem, I wanted to capture all the colors in the restaurant while describing the scene from both viewpoints—patron and owner.  I wanted to play with the idea of “local color” and expose our assumptions about how we can experience a different culture.

Editor’s Note:  The compelling imagery makes me hungry for ethnic food.  The last stanza is particularly strong--clever use of the word "color."

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Poem of the Day: “Lament to Old Appliances” by Pamela Washington

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Lament to Old Appliances” by Pamela Washington.  Ms. Washington lives in Oklahoma.

Lament to Old Appliances
Pamela Washington
My oven, a 1960’s model, doesn’t bake.
Even though I tend it carefully—checking constantly.

I take its temperature
When the mark on the box and my thermometer agree—
My lover puts in the bun.

But it seems the mere opening of the door
Screws up everything.

The bun won’t rise and the oven self-cleans
Trying to rid itself of anything clinging to its walls.

I spend another night in my lover’s arms crying. 

Poet's Notes:  This work came from a dark place I went through with a friend who desperately wanted to have a child with her new husband.  She was older and struggled with infertility.  I came to dread the monthly calls I would talk her through. 
One day, she called to tell me she finally had a “bun in the oven.”  The conceit came to me immediately, and I started jotting ideas, writing the poem in one sitting.  I have done very little revision to the original.  I let the metaphor carry the frustration people feel when their body parts do not work properly.  Moving beyond childbearing years is an emotional moment for most women.

Editor’s Note:  What a perfectly executed poetic conceit with clever but tasteful use of double entendre throughout.  Raw, yet tender, the poet addresses the devastation of infertility head on but tastefully, artfully. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Poem of the Day: “Zeno Again” by Bob Carlton

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Zeno Again” by Bob Carlton. Mr. Carlton lives and works in Leander, Texas. Visit him at

Zeno Again
Bob Carlton

Time splits


Thus the wait
never ends.

Poet's Notes: I really cannot remember what occasioned this poem specifically but I have noticed that the theme of interminable waiting has been a constant in my work over the years. I guess this was just another way of treating the subject. The short paired lines give it a kind of tick-tock effect of moments passing, but discreet moments that lead nowhere on their own, always requiring the next to give any sense of completeness. And of course infinitely divisible moments seen in isolation can lead to that sense that a hoped for conclusion will never arrive.

Editor’s Note: What a clever use of line and stanza breaks and a witty take on an "Achilles and the Tortoise" type paradox. Zeno would be proud.

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Poem for Christmas Day: "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A Parody" by the Editor

Editor’s Note:  I submitted the following parody on June 10, 1983 for my final paper for AP English class.  I received an A++ with the comments “excellent job.”  If you enjoyed Monty Python and the Holy Grail, you will probably enjoy this nice Christmas piece.  In any case, on behalf of Songs of Eretz, I wish all my faithful readers a Merry Christmas!

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:  A Parody
Steven Wittenberg Gordon


In Camelot, Arthur the King lay at Christmas
Peering, reclined, at his peerless lords.
All of the Knights of the Round Table splendid
Were beating each other with lances and swords.
Then the King called for music to drown out the groans
Of his suffering men.

And scarcely had the music stopped for an instant
That a man dressed in green from his head to his toes
Burst through the hall door without even knocking
Astride a huge horse with a very sore head.

He carried an axe, a most awful weapon,
As green as the hair of the beard on his chin.
And the first thing he said, or should I say questioned,
Was, “Where is your leader?  Take me to him!”[i]

“I have heard of this court and the courageous men
That sit at the Round Table with you, noble lord,
And I have reason to test this courage so renowned.
Be there one among you who would dare be so bold
As to assay to strike off my head with this axe,
Let him step forward and I’ll let him do it,
So long as he lets me chop off his in a year.”

All the knights shrank back, for they valued their heads,
That is all but Sir Gawain, a bit smarter than the rest,
He figured, “Quite surely if I first strike his head off
How could he do it to me in a year?”

So Gawain volunteered, and the King gave permission,
And the Green Knight made ready to receive his blow.
With a wink at the crowd Gawain raised the axe high,
The weapon cut swiftly, and the head was laid low.
This wound, however, did not daunt the Knight,
For he picked up his head and mounted his steed.

After Sir Gawain picked his jaw off the floor
And coughed up his tongue and replaced his eyes,
He stood in amazement and starred a the Knight
Who, head in hand, had a look of surprise.
“Did not I tell you that there was a catch?”
“No,” said Sir Gawain.
“But surely you know about Catch-22?
Catch-22 says that if I let you cut off my head,
I can put it back on and then cut off yours.”[ii]

“Now,” said the Green Knight, “you dealt me a blow
Which I in a year will repay as you know.
So seek the Green Chapel, it’s easy to find,
Or live as a coward with the rest of your kind.”


The year flew by swiftly, and Sir Gawain set out
To find the Green Chapel as he had agreed.
His journey was long; he had many adventures
About which to tell there is really no need.
At last, tired and broken, he came to a castle
And was heartily welcomed by the lord within.
Sir Gawain asked the lord where he might find
The Green Chapel.  The lord laughed and said
It was really quite near.  Gawain told of his quest,
And the lord asked him to tarry.
He’d show him the way at the end of the year.

“I’ve got an idea,” said the lord to Sir Gawain,
“Let’s make a bargain, a game don’t you know?
I’ll go out hunting and give you what I find,
And you stay in my house and give me what you do.
My wife,” he added slyly, “will stay to entertain you.”
Sir Gawain agreed and with beer sealed the bargain.


Now, the wife of the lord was a voluptuous creature
And tempted Sir Gawain with her feminine wiles
Quite often whilst her lord was out on the hunt.
But Gawain, who knew sex would be bad for his legs,
Which would be wobbly enough when
The Green Knight he’d face, warded her off,
And only but kissed her, once the first day,
And twice on the next.

The lord, in the meantime, had a successful hunt
And brought back a deer and very nice boar
Which he gave to Sir Gawain, as was the bargain,
And Gawain gave his the kisses, and the lord wanted more.

So once again the lord went to the hunt
And returned with a fox and awaited his due.
Sir Gawain gave him three kisses, and the lord was much pleased.
But three kisses was not actually what Gawain had received,
For the wife of the lord gave to him a green belt
Which would make him invulnerable to the weapons of men.[iii]

“Well, thank you so much for the food and the wine
And the use of your wife (if you know what I mean).
The deer was delicious and so was the boar,
As was the fox (and your lips even more),
But the New Year has come and I must for the Chapel.”


Sir Gawain found the Chapel and boy was it ugly!
Green as if covered with algae and mould.
He called for the Green Knight, and he came as before,
All dressed in green with a big, nasty axe.
“So glad you could come,” said the Knight to our hero.
“Get it over with quickly,” said Gawain with a groan.
The Green Knight said that he would
And Sir Gawain made ready.

Up went the awe, but Gawain’s shoulders decided
That they’d shrink away just in case Greeny
Missed and so would hit them.
“Ha ha!  You flinched!” the knight chided Sir Gawain
Who no doubt forgot the belt that he wore.
“Now you just hold still and I’ll try again.”

This time the Knight raised the axe as before
But brought it down not on the neck of Sir Gawain.
Gawain did not flinch, for his shoulders remembered
The green belt he wore though Sir Gawain still did not.
“All right, hurry up!” Sir Gawain told his tormenter.
“In sooth, so I shall,” said the Green Knight.

And so the Knight swung and a nick gave Sir Gawain
Upon his white neck.  His neck was quite sad,
But his shoulders were pleased, and he sprang to his feet
And then faced the Green Knight.

“And now I’ll explain,” said the Knight to Sir Gawain,
“I’m the lord of the castle, and my wife, don’t you know,
I sent to tempt you, but you resisted; it is so.
Three strokes I gave you to test your courage
And also to parallel the bargain we made.”

“Wait!” cried Sir Gawain, who really was smart,
“I’ve figured it out; now just see if I’m right.
The first two times at the hunt you gave me your catch,
And I gave you the kisses received from your wife.
But, lo!  On the third day I was deceitful.
You gave me your fox, but I kept from you
The belt I’d received.  Egad!  It is true!
The fox could symbolize cunning (he really was smart),
And with cunning I acted and so took a blow.

“So here, take your belt!” for his neck realized
that it could not protect him from the weapons of men.
“No, why don’t you keep it,” said the Knight to Sir Gawain.
“The green’s the wrong shade and it clashes with my beard.

Gawain decided to keep it as a symbol of sin.
He like symbolism a lot, it is true.
The two kissed goodbye, and Gawain went on his way.

Gawain had many adventures ere he reached Camelot
Which are too long to tell of, and so I will not.


The King and his Knights greeted Sir Gawain.
Arthur restored him his property, which had been auctioned.
Gawain then told his tale to all of the Knights
And showed them his symbol, the green belt he wore.
“This is a symbol of sin and deceit, and I’ll wear it always
To remind me of when I acted unknightly.”
But the Knights, who were not as smart as Sir Gawain,
And did not even know what a symbol was,
Just laughed and decided to wear similar belts.

In the days of King Arthur these deeds were done.

[i] Scholars have wondered for centuries if this “Knight” was meant to be a big, green Martian, and if his first words indeed should be translated, “Take me to your leader!”
[ii] My AP English class had recently read Joseph Heller’s timeless classic for an assignment.
[iii] Scholars are undecided as to whether Sir Gawain just wanted to keep the belt or if he enjoyed kissing the lord.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Poem of the Day: “Conversation” by Carolyn Martin

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Conversation” by Carolyn Martin.  Ms. Martin won the Songs of Eretz Poetry Award in February of this year. Her poems have appeared in publications throughout the US and UK, and her second collection, The Way a Woman Knows, was released earlier this year by The Poetry Box  A detailed biography may be found here:

Carolyn Martin

Saturday, our 9:00 a.m. ritual.                                                             
In Jersey she delays her lunch until                                       
my call from Oregon. Three rings ­­– no more –                                  
and I swoop in to question her before                                   
she questions me. She cannot listen long,      
so I defer to doctors, favorite songs,
and bouncing checks. Forgetting, she repeats
each fact a dozen times – the stroke still cheats
her memory. I cheer her on in spite
of all those ancient mother/daughter fights
we wasted our lives on. Don’t get old, each week
her ninety-one commands my seventy.
Compassion prays she’ll die asleep in bed,
forgetting all the words I never said.

Poet’s Notes:  This sonnet recounts pretty accurately the weekly conversation I have with my mother. At 91-years-of-age, she lives in her own apartment and, although she suffered a minor stroke three years ago, she is still able to do many things for herself. While I’m an introvert, she’s an extrovert who can out-talk me even with her repetitions. One of her favorite admonitions is, “Don’t get old.” At 70, I usually joke back, “But, mom, I’m already old.”

Editor’s Note:  I like the poetic take on the conflicts that occur between some mothers and daughters or, more universally, between parents and their children.  The final couplet is particularly moving.  “Conversation” was first published in Antiphon, June 2015.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Poem of the Day: “Down the Mine” by Christopher Hivner

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Down the Mine” by Christopher Hivner.  A brief biography of the poet may be found here: 

Down the Mine
Christopher Hivner 

There was a time
when I thought about her
all day, every day,
mining my memories
with a pick and shovel,
placing the jewels
in cloth
to protect until they
reach the surface,
the sunlight re-attaching their shine.

There was a time
when I thought about him
too often,
sneaking into the chamber
with a candle
to illuminate our past
just enough
so I’d get nicked
on a sharp edge
and bleed.

There came a time
when I tried to think
about nothing,
live in a void
of soft breezes
and esoteric things.
I boarded up the mine,
no more digging
through shards of anger,
no more cuts
too deep to suture
with a thread of deep breaths.

Now the years have passed
without subtlety.
The old helmet still fits,
new batteries in the lamp,
pick and shovel in hand,
I go mining again
searching for the gold
among the rock,
gold amidst the detritus,
gold shining its light,
gold to pay the way
to affirmation.

Poet’s Notes:  Our minds can be places of great joy and equal sadness. I don’t think I’m alone in sometimes dwelling on past mistakes or painful experiences. I was in that state of mind one day while writing, and “Down the Mine” came out. It’s basically a road map of relationships I repeatedly re-visit, then gird myself and say, “no more,” only to return later and dig all over again. The mine was the perfect metaphor for me, because it seems one small thought can lead to going deeper and deeper.

Editor’s Note:  This poem employs a unique (in my experience) and beautifully executed poetic conceit, solid throughout.