Monday, October 16, 2017

A Letter from the Editor to All Contest Participants

Dear Contest Participants,

I am awed and humbled by the level of participation in this year’s Songs of Eretz Poetry Award Contest, our only fundraising event.  It is thanks to you and your generous support that we will be able further our mission to bring a little more good poetry into the world.  

The contest raised enough in donations for the Review to begin offering honoraria to our guest poets at a professional rate beginning in 2018.  “Going pro” should put Songs of Eretz on a trajectory to be on par with the most prestigious literary journals. Furthermore, it is sure to attract guest poets of the utmost quality and refinement to our cause.

This contest saw the return of many loyal friends from previous years as well as an unprecedented number of new voices.  The large number of early entrants, as well as the significant number of poets who entered the contest multiple times, particularly moved me.  The high quality of the work entered was remarkable as well, making my job as preliminary judge difficult--a nice problem!

I hope that all of you enjoyed your contest experience and found the personal feedback on each of your poems to be of some use.  I know that I enjoyed or will enjoy carefully considering and responding to each and every poem that was submitted (there were many last-minute entries that I still look forward to reading).

Kind regards,
Steven Wittenberg Gordon, MD

Friday, October 13, 2017




Contest Guidelines:

For donations, use with as the receiving address. The suggested donation is twelve dollars per year for regular visitors to our site, but we will appreciate any lesser amount you can afford to give.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

"Falling into Winter" by Lauren McBride

Falling into Winter    

Like powdered sugar
sprinkled on spice cakes -            
brown and russet leaves  
dusted in snowflakes.

--Lauren McBride

Poet's Notes: I love fall when I can fling open the windows and let in the cool crisp air instead of summer's inferno. Then I can use the oven without having the kitchen's accidental space heater overtax the air conditioner. And suddenly I feel the need to bake. Perhaps this is why spice cake came to mind to describe snow falling on autumn leaves.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"Games People Play" by John C. Mannone

Games People Play
John C. Mannone

It’s The Game of Life, but the Trouble is
that we often take Risk without having a Clue.
Silence sometimes dominates: Don’t Break
the Ice or Say Anything, that would be Taboo.
And when we finally speak, there’s no Diplomacy,
what we say to each other is often a Scrabble bunch
of words or simply Balderdash—it’s Apples to Apples
in this Game of Thrones. Why does one or the other
often have Monopoly over the conversation
while the other throws Stick & Stones?
It would be better if we threw Candyland candy canes
or even Chutes and Ladders, they wouldn’t hurt as much.
Sorry, this is a Trivial Pursuit, you can remain
the Mastermind, the Dominant Species. It’s Pay Day
I’m going to Pick Up Sticks and as quick as Jumping Jacks,
Go home. Guess Who is not going to stay
in the Dungeon anymore, no more Twilight Struggles
or night time nightmares. I got a Ticket to Ride.
It’s a game, like Chess, and I just lost my queen.

Poet’s Notes: This is about failed relationships in terms of board games (at least 25 of the 76 most popular ones), as well as a few others. The games are italicized and capitalized. See 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

"Favorite Place" by Mary Soon Lee

Favorite Place
Mary Soon Lee

Saint Stephen's Green, Dublin, Ireland
After fifteen years away,
I took my children to Dublin
and we fed the ducks
(who were actually gulls)
at St. Stephen's Green.

We didn't visit the cemetery,
but broke bread with your sisters,
their voices instantly familiar
as I wish your voice could be,
even for a few hours
every fifteen years.

Two days in Ireland, jet-lagged,
so little of what I wanted,
but three weeks later
my daughter, your granddaughter,
brought home from school
a worksheet where she'd penciled
her favorites:
color - blue violet,
number - 9,
place - Ireland.

Why do the small things
undo me?

Poet's Notes:  My mother was Irish and grew up in Dublin. She would have been an entirely wonderful grandmother but she died when my son was one year old and before my daughter had been born. This poem is about a brief trip to Dublin that I made with my children, during which they met my aunts and my cousins, which was a bittersweet experience. My aunts and my cousins were so kind and warmly welcoming, but I heard my mother in her sisters' voices and I wanted her to be there, to be with her grandchildren, even for an afternoon.

Editor’s Note:  I am touched by and a bit jealous of this one, being half Irish (my mother's people hail from Sligo) and always having wanted to visit Ireland and knowing I likely never will.  Mary captures several universal qualities of life here:  longing to connect with one's roots, regret that that dead cannot share in the joys of the living, the rushed aspects of travel and of never being able to accomplish all that is desired on a trip, and most of all how the “little things” in life are so important. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

"Bless this House" by Terri Lynn Cummings

Bless this House
Terri Lynn Cummings

Barns raise their hats 
over the plain’s long gown
as I drive to the town 
where children grow like weeds
(as elders used to say)

Once white streets
cheeks ruddy from the iron                                   
of ancestors and kiss of earth
trace the past’s margins
Tar divides the road

into sections, quarters
where children challenge
games of Four Square
basketball bouncing
from corner to corner

Mothers glance through windows 
unafraid of cars running 
over daughters and sons
who welcome sun on shoulders 
without the slather of sunscreen

unknown as a safety belt
Now neglect peels from houses
starves gardens
rusts litters of cars and toys 
Spring scratches patches

like a hen seeking seeds
I face the house
with weeping mortar
spot the dwarf persimmon – 
a bush that christens our first house 

sheds petals on the past
tender as an infant’s skull
having nowhere else to fall
but down my throat

Poet’s Notes:  The day I visited my parent’s graves, I drove past the first house my parent’s owned. I was three years old when we moved in, but I remember my father planting the dwarf persimmon bush. Our home held the precious coins of my childhood, shiny as sunlight. Yet time passed its hand over its face. So I wrote my longing to go back in time, visit my parents, first friends, neighbors, and the street where I belonged.  

Sunday, October 8, 2017





Friday, October 6, 2017

"smoke on the platform" by John Reinhart

smoke on the platform
John Reinhart

today, everyday, show up, show & tell
a pack of cigarettes lying to clouds
spelling it out: today is the battlefield

tell it to the mountains, raining down
everyday to clear the smoke spelling
messages secretly slipped from hand to pocket

downtown trains everyday arrive on time
carrying clouds of people, smoking
on the platform, breathing courage

time today, everyday, missteps, misspellings –
smoke ‘em out, dance for rain, rolling
off mountains, clouding the battle

it is a battle, everyday, to show
the mountains to the battlefield against
the wall, last cigarette smoldering

shadow – at noon, dreaming of trains
escaping to the mountains, above the clouds
& the smoke, people spelling today

Poet's Notes:  I recently watched Guardians of the Galaxy. The greatest part about the movie for me is Groot. Of course, we're all meant to fall in love with the simple tree beast that saves everyone in the end--it's the classic fairy tale scenario--except that what makes Groot work is his linguistics. He says only "I am Groot," but the way he says it says everything he needs to say, which, granted isn't much because his pal is a fast talking raccoon. 

Language is about context and body language as much as it is about the specific words. With relatively few words, we can communicate great volumes - sign language manages on concepts. As a wordsmith, and, though constrained by practicality, a wordy one at that, what if the ideas and words to work with in a poem were limited to a select few that could only be repeated or rearranged?  

Editor's Note:  Written language is all about symbols standing for words or ideas or concepts.  It is stripped of body language and all but the most subtly crafted written work is practically stripped of tone.  Written poetry, as opposed to poetry spoken or sung, is unique among the ways of conveying the written word in that white space may speak volumes, and enjambment of lines and arrangements of lines and stanzas may add many layers of additional meaning.  Still, as an insightful life coach once taught me, the most important aspects of true communication are tone and body language.  Your words are the last things that will be believed.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A Poem for Sukkot by the Editor

Sukkot in Kansas
Shlomo ben Moshe HaLevi
And you shall take for yourself on the first day the fruit of a beautiful tree, the branch of the palm tree, a bough from the avot tree, and willows of the stream, and you shall rejoice before your God for seven days.  Leviticus 23:40

It rained in Kansas on Sukkot this year making
the waving of the lulav seem a bit unnecessary. 
Ironically, the etrog we held together with the lulav
to complete the commandment had to be imported
from Israel this year a bit under ripened
due to a winter frost that nearly wiped
out Italy’s entire crop.  Still, we could smell
the citrus fragrance of the fruit of a beautiful
tree right through the rind.  It was cold and wet
in the sukkah, a source of complaint, but then we
imagined how it must have been for our ancestors
who had to sleep in makeshift booths in the fields
in order to maximize their time there.  Those who
made this extra effort often endured frigid nights,
mud and rain, insect bites, and other minor discomforts,
but they were also blessed with more bountiful harvests,
an additional yield that insured they would survive
the coming year.  Thus we their descendants are alive.

Editor's/Poet's Notes:  Most Jews of the Diaspora these days do not mark Sukkot, but I personally find it to be a meaningful and festive holiday week.  Every year as I take my meals in the sukkah enjoying the pleasant temperature, singing of birds, and beautiful trees, I make a vow (which I sadly never keep) to eat outside on my deck much more often in the coming year.

Yesterday it rained while my family and I waved the lulav.  This is ironic, as the poem points out to the reader because the waving of lulav is done in part to ensure rain in its proper time, season, and amount.  

The story about the etrog is truly what happened this year  My family and I feared as a result of the fruit being unripe and green instead of lemon yellow that it would lack any scent, but God made a little miracle for us here.

The poem, while free verse and definitely post-modern, contains many assonances, consonances, alliterations, and intra- and end-line rhymes, so that it reads much like a traditional form poem much of the time.  It is exactly eighteen lines in length.  This is no accident.  The number eighteen is associated with "chai" (pronounced with a ch like the German "ach" not like the spicy tea beverage) meaning "life" in Hebrew.  Without good harvests and proper rain, there would be no life, and without the sacrifices of the ancient Hebrews who upheld the commandments of Sukkot there would perhaps be no Jews.

Become an expert on the holiday of Sukkot by going here  Chag sameach!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

"After Sickness" by David Pring-Mill

After Sickness
David Pring-Mill

I had to expand my strength
To match their incremental mystery.
The diagnosis was unknown
and they couldn’t predict
When the pain might release me.

But it was not the pain
that shook me most.
It was the devastation later,
the loss of friends during.
That, they do not say.
They do not tell you
that friends walk away
from a sick person.

And so I found out
which friendships were functional.
By not going out to the bar
on a Friday night,
I was not fulfilling
that function of friendship.
And so I watched
another person
peel away.

The ones who encouraged me
to call and check in
did not return calls.
My safest connection was IV
and the fluids were gone.
The nurse, nowhere in sight.
The staff, overwhelmed
by that man with the bullet wound,
the woman screaming gibberish,
the mouths that still breathed, diligently
for the sake of delirious minds,
with nerves conceptualizing
the excruciation of shattered parts.

And I tried to remember
what ocean air tastes like
on my lips,
what kisses even are…

Self-pity is a weak approximation
of loving yourself.
And so I tried
to avoid that.
Vulnerability lets in cold drafts;
and so I shuttered that.
Pain is the body’s feedback,
and so my mind chose
a reality beyond suffering.

Evolutionary psychology would explain
why people distance themselves from the sick,
even though nothing about me was contagious.
Or is it simply the self-centeredness
of our sun-centered world?
Which justification gives me
more comfort and leaves them
with their values intact?

I did not know,
But I felt like
a salvage yard, with a car crusher
popping out the bones of derelict cars,
depriving each body of its air and its room,
allowing the casing to go
from the size of its parking space
to a flattened disc of colored metal.

In the isolation, after illness
and before recovery,
even the suave, confident voice
will turn into desperate howling,
the arched and dark eyebrows of a slick youth
will still be arched, but in ruined horror,
Hairs whitened with the washing dyes of dread.

And then I went outside again,
Searching for the images
that floated in my mind
when I could not freely move.
Each day I walked a little farther
and it wasn’t lost on me
how cyclical
this all is.

From bedrest, I leapt
into our limitless world.
Regaining friends was like jump-starting a car
from the salvage yard.

And when I was immersed again,
When I was in love again,
When I was with nature again,
It was observed that I tend to be
a serious man.
And I did not think
I was so serious, before.

I also perceived
time more often.
And, in fact, I became
obsessed with time.
And when the hours, minutes, even seconds
tried to escape me
or fell into chaotic vortices,
I would take drastic measures
to recover my schedule and days.
I am not okay with wasting time,
having understood perfectly:
Mortality is more
than theory,
And less than
this very moment.

Poet’s Notes:  “After Sickness” is a poem that speaks to the alienation caused by illness. It’s a poem rooted in personal experiences from my past. I am thankful to say that this is all in my past. However, there was still catharsis in typing out the words.

As a consequence of my work on health care reform and also through random conversation, I’ve met many people who endured substantial physical pain. And I discovered that it is common for pain to feel alienating. Beyond the pain of the body, there is the psychological pain of becoming detached from friends and working life. It is not uncommon for friends to distance themselves, perhaps unconsciously, from a person who is sick. Some friends will, of course, remain present and supportive; and it never seems to be the ones who you would expect. 

These types of experiences are revealing of other people’s integrity and also just their own capacity and comfort levels. It’s impossible for me to feel any kind of lasting resentment towards those who weren’t there, but as I was recovering, I definitely felt their absence and I felt it as an additional form of pain. This poem is my way of connecting with anyone who might still be in the thick of it. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

"Let Us Remember" by the Editor

Let Us Remember
Steven Wittenberg Gordon 
                               For Las Vegas

May the name of the man who caused
the murders and mayhem be erased
from history.  Such evil deserves not a place
in our collective brain.  Instead 
let us remember the lady who surrendered
her pickup without hesitation
to be used as a makeshift ambulance. 
Let us remember the police
who bravely ran toward the gunfire
and the SWAT team that stormed the building. 
Let us remember the fireman who continued
to provide first aid though he himself needed aid. 
Let us remember the hundreds of strangers
who risked their lives to help other strangers. 
Let us remember the thousands who came together
for a candlelight vigil to pray
for the dead and their families.
Let us remember the goodness, the kindness,
the courage, the decency, and the selflessness.

Monday, October 2, 2017

"Dear Ramona" by John Grey

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Dear Ramona” by John Grey.  Grey has been recently published in Front Range Review, Studio One, and Columbia Review and has work forthcoming in Naugatuck River Review, Abyss and Apex, and Midwest Quarterly.  Originally from Australia, Grey currently resides in the United States.  
Dear Ramona
John Grey

I'm broke. I'm still here.
I live alone
and I do all the talking.
Week by week, looking older.
A little ruined maybe.
And if you could see these eyes
you'd know they've wept some
in their time.
There's photographs in this place
that show me as a young man,
a new man.
But that's just the camera's opinion.
It's August.
There's children playing in the park opposite.
And trucks still rumble by,
try to shake down these walls.
The guy below,
you know - the one with the yellow suit,
he went missing for a while.
Turns out he was in hospital
and no one knew.
I mean how many things
can a guy stand to do
with no one knowing about them.
And the woman on the first floor -
I admit I cannot comprehend her
one little bit.
She's in her seventies,
dresses like a teenager,
wears makeup like caulk
to fill the cracks in her face.
Those were who I woke to Christmas morning.
I'm in between jobs
but not love affairs.
I write when I can
and when I can't,
I get this icy run of fear
that there'll come a time
when I stop even doing that.
And what comes after writing?
I have a sense that there is nothing more.

Poet’s Notes:  “Dear Ramona” harkens back to a time when I was living by myself, trying to eke out a living against the odds. The place in which I was staying at the time was a typical tenement apartment in the poorer side of town, the kind of place where the other tenants living so close just underlined how solitary my situation was. The details are just scattered memories of local color. Was there a Ramona? Maybe, maybe not. But there was a desperation, a sorrow in the writing to her.  

Editor’s Note:  The loneliness, fear, helplessness, and despair seep out of this poem as blood would from an abrasion that refuses to heal.  There is a universal quality to this poem with which most people, particularly writers and artists, would readily identify.  The title is wisely chosen, begging the reader to wonder whom Ramona might be. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017



The Winner Will Receive a

Guest Judge 
Immediate Past Kansas Poet Laureate
Eric McHenry

Find out more about Eric here and by enjoying his feature in Songs of Eretz Poetry Review August 15 - 30.