Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Special Feature: "Visitor" by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Contest Judge

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Contest Judge

for Ravi

“Come, I will teach you,” your young self
tells my young self in the school gymnasium.
I learn how to step wide while turning
with such speed that I can fly around your step.
You already know that you will never go back
to your first country, just as I won't live a half continent away
where I started. How long have we known each other?

In the dream, you show me a photo of your son, not yet born,
and place a handful of stones on the grave of my father,
long before he died. I call you on the phone and leave a message
between waking and forgetting we are not the same person.
Sometimes when you wake, you reach for my glasses
only to find your own. The music changes, but not time:
we are still practicing in the empty university classroom
or turning up the cassette player in the parking lot,

decades later from when we started. Like a dust devil
on the hot black surface so open and bare, we whirl crooked,
a Jew and an Tamil dancing the Swedish hambo.
Each step a leap around you, this dream, this friendship
old as the dirt in our new land, your brown arms light
as fallen leaves. I hold on.

Poet's Notes: This originates from a poem I probably first drafted over thirty years about learning to hambo from my friend Ravi. A few years ago, Ravi found the poem, took a photo of it, and emailed me the jpeg. Nothing like seeing, on the screen of my laptop, my words typed out from way before I imagined computers. I reworked the old poem, keeping the ending line, “I hold on,” and tweaking or majorly changing over parts of the poem to try to convey the slippery nature of time. 

Editor's Note:  What a delight and privilege it has been to feature Caryn as the Songs of Eretz Poetry Review Poet of the Month!  I hope that you enjoyed this rare treat as much as I enjoyed presenting it. For those of you planning to enter the Songs of Eretz Poetry Award Contest, which officially launches tomorrow, I trust that reading Caryn's work this month has given you good insight into her style of poetry.

Special Feature: "Knight’s Last Roundelay" by the Editor

Knight’s Last Roundelay
Steven Wittenberg Gordon

Fighting man, though thou be ailing,
Thou wert once the very best,
Comes the dragon long tail flailing,
From its stronghold in the west,
Knight, although thy force be failing,
Find the strength for one last quest.

Comes the dragon long tail flailing,
From its stronghold in the west,
Blazing breath and nails impaling,
Striking fear in ev’ry breast,
Knight, although thy force be failing,
Find the strength for one last quest.

Blazing breath and nails impaling,
Striking fear in ev’ry breast,
For a hero we are wailing,
Brave enough to face the test.
Knight, although thy force be failing,
Find the strength for one last quest.

For a hero we are wailing,
Brave enough to face the test.
Swiftly on thy charger sailing,
Ride to us for battle dressed.
Knight, although thy force be failing,
Find the strength for one last quest.

Poet's Notes:  Ah, the old hero, called out of retirement in the people's hour of need!  The romance of this narrative takes away my breath and brings a tear to my eye every time.  I hope this roundelay had the same effect on you.

Poem of the Day: "A Day Late" by Anne Carly Abad, Frequent Contributor

A Day Late
Anne Carly Abad

shedding her coat...
spring blossoms cover
a dirt path

lone pink amid green
visitors take turns holding

lilies in a temple urn
a breeze shakes off
silver droplets

brief rain
the last cold bite
before parting

Poet's Notes:  Japan is one of my favorite places on earth. The cool weather, delicious food, friendly folks and richness of nature are things I'll always miss when it's time to go home. The other things I appreciate about Japan are their short poetry forms like the tanka and the haiku. I like the sense of the present, of the now that can be captured in the briefest of words. Also, I like the depth of meaning that can be derived from a single moment--when a bird takes flight, when a petal falls, when a parent chases her child. Writing in a foreign language, we may only approximate the original Japanese, but that doesn't detract from the satisfaction of being able to capture a beautiful moment.

Editor's Note:  Sadly, this will be the last poem by Anne that will be published in Songs of Eretz Poetry Review at least for a while.  She has decided to take a sabbatical of undetermined length from her Frequent Contributor role in order to concentrate on other projects.  Her honey-smooth voice, beautiful imagery, and diverse approaches to the poetic word will be missed, and she will be welcomed back whenever she is ready.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Special Feature: "Balancing on the Equinox" by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Contest Judge

Balancing on the Equinox
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Contest Judge

The golden tree holds her pose for several breaths,
each one a dazzle of wind, rise, fall, feather and run.
Meantime, time. Meanwhile, a man on a bicycle pumping hard
to get up the hill. Meanwhile, the dog tearing down the street,
leash flying behind him. Meanwhile, the equinox:
a balance point when one white plastic bag pauses
at the side of the tree, a flag or spirit or sign
before dropping down to trash again.

I stand in the backyard in tree: my right leg trembling
as it supports me, my left knee bent, leading the hip open.
I press my palms together at my heart and wish for balance
even, especially, while falling. The storm to come
cups the west side of this life. The heat of summer cups the right.
I exhale. The golden tree across the way holds very still
then surrenders everything in the wide arms of the world.

Poet's Notes: This is obviously a yoga poem, but it's also about weather, and it's one of the poems in Chasing Weather, my collaborative book with weather chaser/photographer Stephen Locke. I've drawn so much to how our bodies are our most local weather and address, our most intimate connection with earth and sky.

Editor’s Note:  “Balancing on the Equinox” was previously published in Chasing Weather: Tornadoes, Tempests, and Thunderous Skies in Word and Image by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and Stephen Locke. 

Special Feature: "Knight Sestina" by the Editor

Knight Sestina
Steven Wittenberg Gordon

Ride forth to battle noble knight
With sword and bow and trusty lance.
When come the hungry demons--fight!
Repel the hordes as they advance.
Come down upon them as a gale,
Defend us all.  You must not fail.

What would it mean for you to fail,
To fall in battle, shining knight?
The demons, howling like a gale,
Their teeth as sharp as any lance
Upon your gates they would advance.
Remember this the while you fight.

Spurred on by evil, demons fight.
While darkness reigns they will not fail
To press you hard in their advance
And ever strive to kill you, knight,
To snap your bow and break your lance,
To feed you to their hellish gale.

With wings that beat the air to gale
The wing├ęd ones prefer to fight
With talons long as any lance,
And hides to make your arrows fail.
Draw back your bow with strength, oh knight!
And bring them down!  Halt their advance!

Relentlessly they will advance
A hundred strong before the gale.
To overcome a single knight
The demons are prepared to fight
To crush and make your spirit fail
And stick your head upon your lance.

So charge at them with lowered lance
As forth the howling hordes advance.
Though skin may split and sinews fail,
Your spirit, mighty as a gale,
Must never break in this great fight.
Show what it means to be knight.

Oh fail us not!  Bring on the gale!
Lance them like boils as you fight.
We thank you in advance, oh knight.

Poet's Notes:  I just never tire of the story of the noble knight, alone, facing impossible odds, everyone counting him, grimly and bravely executing his duty by riding into battle, accepting of his doom.  The sestina is a difficult form to pull off, but I found the narrative sliding easily into place as I composed this one.

Poem of the Day: "Rachel" by Mary Soon Lee, Frequent Contributor

Mary Soon Lee

In a cardboard home
decorated by her children
she sent my daughter
four wooden mice,
like the wooden mice
we played with ourselves
when we were school friends.
I remember the spaceship
we built for my mice,
and rooms laid out
with domino walls,
tiny padded armchairs
pulled up around a fireplace,
cups smaller than my thumbnail.
I remember a rope swing
stretching to the sky
in her grandparents' garden;
the chocolate cakes
her mother baked;
and how she visited me
every day for a week
when I had chickenpox.

Poet's Notes: Rachel was one of my best friends when I was growing up. We still exchange Christmas cards and occasional emails, but haven't seen each other in a long time. (My fault, for moving to America.) I was very touched when Rachel sent my daughter little wooden mice like the ones we played with years ago, together with a cardboard mouse house that her children had decorated. I regret that our children have never met each other.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Special Feature: "Who Dances?" by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Contest Judge

Who Dances?
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Contest Judge

How can we tell the dancer from the dance?
-- William Butler Yeats

Not just bodies honed swans long accustomed to flight,
limbs agile as big bluestem in the breeze, but instead
dance lucid as light that permeates every pore of everything:
the 82-year-old woman, hands on walker, who glides,
pauses, receives the fresh air, the black birds pouring diagonally
across the street while she readies herself. Not just the black birds,
but the street itself grinding its fresh asphalt against weather
and time. Not just what seems inanimate but the air itself:
compression of moisture and speed, the physics of acorn fall,
the quirk of the cork fastening leaf edge to branch,
the call of train whistle threaded through wind.

Don't think it's only about thought executed through limbs,
or core strength making possible the explosion of agility.
Your thoughts are simply little snaps of the fingers, small ebbs
of old jokes from ancestors who danced in ways you can't imagine
when no one but the goat was watching. The dance always was
and is language: the break speed of the crow's wing, the dizzy
of a cold front powering through whatever was for a moment
the safe and the known, the ecstasy of the universe
of water, and how one duck lands on one pond in the dark.

There's the lonely man at the end of his life, waltzing
a broom at the train station. There's the young woman in the
parking lot who suddenly puts her cell phone away and skips.
There are new lovers and old ones, tilted broken ones and just
forgiven-all-over-again ones, making new shapes in the blankets
from their grief and yearning. There is the clump of dirt falling
from the shovel one woman holds, her sun glasses dancing
with the moving windows of grief across this moment,
as she waits to hear it all hit the coffin of her beloved.
There is the rush of whatever you think you are doing,
so fast that you lose your balance and rise in rhythm
with “Hey Jude” blasting from the apartment above.

Dance takes you up in its tired arms, aging legs, old muscles
and daring lungs so that you can angle life from breath from time.
Who dances? asks memory and joy. You do.

Poet's Notes: I wrote this poem as part of a performance of the same title at the Lawrence Arts Center in Lawrence, Kansas where I live. I was invited by choreographer Susan Rieger to write something on who gets to dance, who we want to watch publicly or not, and what that can mean. It was a very brave event because it also featured a famous choreographer who worked mostly with those we would expect to be the dancers: people with bodies young, long, slim and agile. As I read this poem at the event, I asked a friend of mine, dancer Laura Ramberg, an amazing dancer but far older than those we normally watch on stages, climb out of her chair in the audience and dance. Laura did, and it was one of the most meaningful collaborations I've been involved in as people listened to my words while watching a middle-aged woman dance her own stories and gestures.

Editor’s Note:  “Who Dances?” was previously published in The Midwest Review. 

Special Feature: "The Ice Gnomes" by the Editor

The Ice Gnomes
Steven Wittenberg Gordon

Their hidden world is cold and crystal-lined
and powder of the purest white is heaped
in places into dune-drifts by the wind
invisible and in old magic steeped
an ocean though unseen apparent e’er
due to its sculpting of their world so fair.
There dwell the ice gnomes with their hoarfrost manes   
and eyes of glacial water piercing cold
who fashion castles of ice windowpanes
with spires of snowflakes woven with white gold
that swim within the sea of icy air
the light of sun and moon refracting there:
Auroras burst and rainbows blossom bright
as colors flood their world of frozen white.

Poet's Notes:  Sometimes structures occur naturally that appear to be manmade, or made by some intelligent design.  It is fun to fantasize that perhaps the sidhe, gnomes, or fairies are the creators of these fascinating phenomena.

Poem of the Day: "Epistemology" by James Frederick William Rowe, Frequent Contributor

James Frederick William Rowe

No man has known the bones
Which give structure to his frame
Which bear the burden of his flesh
But through agony
And the facing of death

Poet’s Notes:  All knowledge is learned in suffering. It is impossible to learn without misery. This is why the greatest commandment is to "Know Thyself"—for it is a true achievement to overcome such, especially as introspection is often the most painful of all knowledge. It struck me as especially meaningful (and amusing) to realize that literal introspection—to know one's internal structure—requires horrendous pain, given that the only way to know our bones is to break them or to carve the flesh away.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Review by FC Lee of Beyond This Dark House by Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay is one of my favorite fantasy novelists. Now, having read this short book, but not yet having had time for it to sink in, he threatens to become one of my favorite poets. It is not that I liked every poem in Beyond This Dark House, but many of the poems were good, and several were outstanding.

In the opening poem, "Night Drive: Elegy," the narrator remembers his father. There are a multitude of poems written in memory of parents or friends, so that sometimes it seems that there is little room to add anything worthwhile to their collective weight. Kay has done so. For the most part, the poem is written plainly. The details are specific, their impact universal:

The drive back home,
just the two of us, end of a work day. He'd steer
with one hand at twelve o'clock and
an elbow out the open window. No one
ever born had hands I'd ever rather feel
enclosing mine. Then. Now. The day
the son we named for him was born.

The book includes quite a few poems about love that are seemingly autobiographical, of which I think my favorite is the closing poem, "Finding Day." There are also a number of assorted mainstream poems, one of which, "If I Should Fly Across The Sea Again," I loved. 

And then, appropriately for a fantasy novelist, there are a number of fantastical poems. These range from variations on old myths to poems where the strangeness seemed to be the author's own invention. I particularly liked "Being Orpheus," "Medea," "Various Things," "At The Death of Pan," which has humor in it, "Hero," and "Shalott." But more than any of these, I loved "Guinevere at Almesbury," a masterful revisiting of the tales of Camelot:

There was no place to hide.
I was brought into another life
and began to live with grief,

for Arthur knew. He knew me as he knew
each single star that swung about like
pointers to his north.


I see them on a forest path,
riding together. Dappled, autumn 
leaves, a slanting sun just risen.
Or in battle side by side 
with bloodied swords,
in the hard north. Or talking 
a winter night away beside a fire
in a kingdom that has not fallen.

A poem that is different from the opening poem, but both of them superb--poems to be treasured and to which to return.

--Mary Soon Lee

Friday, August 26, 2016

Special Feature: "Gateway Part 10" by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Contest Judge

Gateway Part 10
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Contest Judge

from the Tao Te Ching

10. Without opening your door/ you can open your heart to the world.

The wind threads its thimble sound through
the cracks in the window frame. I think of my friend's voice
right after she lost her mother. I think of driving too fast
then stopping to be overwhelmed by the stillness.

In the small hours when I wake on the sleeping porch,
the wind cracks open my dreams: a shtetl in Poland
where my grandmother woke as a child,
sat up beside her sleeping sisters, and listened
to the wind climb the house. Her heart was open
for that moment, only days before that world
collapsed, and she found herself far away
without ever having opened the door to leave.
We have thousands of stories to tell of her unhappiness
but what do we know of the moments that defied
her history? Of the world her heart took in willingly?

The heart isn't a hinge between inside and outside,
who you love and who you don't even know.
Showing you there never was a door to begin with,
the heart becomes the world. Sit up. Wind holds you.

Editor’s Note:  The Poet’s Notes for “Gateway” may be found in the introduction to the first part of this ten part poem  “Gateway” was previously published in The Midwest Review. 

Special Feature: "Ghazal: In the Tower" by the Editor

Ghazal:  In the Tower
Steven Wittenberg Gordon

Pretty princess imprisoned high in the tower,
Forsaken and scared she will cry in the tower.

By wicked step-mother or by witch or by spell
Placed there and expected to die in the tower.

Perhaps it was jealousy, perhaps it was greed,
Or prophesy meant to defy in the tower.

Whatever the cause, the unfortunate maiden
Is there.  There’s no need to ask why in the tower.

But what’s this?  A handsome prince arrives on the scene
And causes the maiden to sigh in the tower.

For she falls in love with him forever always
And desperately wants this new guy in the tower.

She will help the prince climb up and claim his sweet prize.
‘Tis doubtful on wits she’ll rely in the tower

But rather on hair or the lure of her body--
A princess must learn to be sly in the tower.

With the aid of her charms or the wide wings of love,
The prince will arrive by and by in the tower.

Swollen with lust, he will not wait to ravish her,
But she will be not at all shy in the tower.

Afterwards, he’ll carry her off to his castle
And put her--guess where?  My oh my!  In the tower!

The leaves of the Stevia plant, while they taste sweet
Nourish not--as love is a lie in the tower.

Poet's Notes:  This is one of my experiments with the ghazal form.  I like the irony and irreverence here, a nod to the "real" stories behind children's fairy tales.  It is traditional to work the poet's name into the final stanza--I had fun doing that as well.

Poem of the Day: "Sir Hew Paints Crickets" by John C. Mannone, Frequent Contributor

Sir Hew Paints Crickets
John C. Mannone

Sir Hew enchanted everything with paints. They’d chirp
all shades of green from curled-up hairs of the fiddlehead
fern to the glassy-onyx sheen in eyes of pinewood dolls.

He must’ve been part Gryllidae, for when he readied
to color, he’d lift and rub his forearms together, slip off
his mottled shirt boasting clumps of sky and forest green,

then bite his lips, mix a little spittle with tobacco-green
paint, and set the olive tones by blending in the sour notes
with jealous tints of green that silked the edge of his palette.

And when he had the colors in every hue he wanted
that finally meant to be applied to canvas, Sir Hew
would noise about the palace, as if a metal toy, his voice,

clicking wildly for attention. He then wiggled his papery
butt unto the bar-green footstool, as if it were a wicket.
And he, perhaps a cricket, would hew a piece of rainbow

balanced on a blade of grass in the dew-mist sun, right there
upon the wall would paint the fields of England
with his magic and musical shades of greens (as well as
flitting butterflies) while waiting for the queen.

Poet’s Notes: I wrote this fanciful poem while thinking about crickets. Walt Disney’s Jiminy Cricket together with other creations, like Fantasia, launched me into a fantasy exercise. Not as clever and nonsensical as Dr. Seuss’ rhymes, “Sir Hew Paints Crickets” hopes to enchant with visuals and the sound of words.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Special Feature: "Gateway Part 9" by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Contest Judge

Gateway Part 9
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Contest Judge

from the Tao Te Ching

9. What is rooted is easy to nourish

Let's not beg for rain or turn away from the drought
but lift our hands to touch the real: the clay of the garden
that barely comes apart, the stones in the wrong place,
the rain that comes with too much force.

Let's plant our feet on the porch planks,
on the cement of the sidewalk, on the gravel
of the driveway, on the stubble among sunflowers
collapsing of their own weight.
Let's walk to remember how rooted the sky is,
and how we are made of sky.

Editor’s Note:  The Poet’s Notes for “Gateway” may be found in the introduction to the first part of this ten part poem  “Gateway” was previously published in The Midwest Review.