Monday, December 31, 2018

Songs of Eretz 2018: A Year in Review and a Look Ahead

2018 marked yet another good year for Songs of Eretz.  The site recorded just shy of 100,000 more views, and we enjoyed paying guest poets a professional rate of fifty dollars a poem.  Duotrope sponsored our contest this year, a sitting state poet laureate is serving as guest judge, and a record $1,500 will be given away in contest honoraria in the coming year, which will bring the total amount that we have given away to poets and for poetry to well over $5,000. Not bad for a plucky little e-zine whose stated mission is “to bring a little more good poetry into the world.”

We had to say farewell to Frequent Contributors Yoni Hammer-Kossoy, Sierra July, Mary Soon Lee, Lauren McBride, and Aparna Sanyal but we are pleased to welcome five new Frequent Contributors to the staff.  While the old FCs will be dearly missed, this yearly attrition helps to keep Songs of Eretz fresh and cutting edge.  Our new FCs are Silvia Cavanaugh, Richard Fenwick, Karla Linn Merrifield, Vivian Finley Nida, and Charles A. Swanson.  They are accomplished poets from all over the United States, and their diverse poetic voices will be a real treat.  Their bios may be read in the “Our Staff” section.

The editorial staff expanded to include Art Editor Jason Artemus Gordon, Associate Editor James Frederick William Rowe, and Assistant Editor Terri Lynn Cummings.  This team has already begun taking on about half of the editorial duties that used to fall only to me.  I am looking forward to the contributions they will make in the operation of Songs of Eretz and to the freedom their help will afford me to spend more time on strategic planning.  And I have so many strategic plans!

Most significantly, beginning in January 2019, Songs of Eretz Poetry Review will go from publishing every weekday to publishing eleven themed issues per year (about one issue per month around the middle of each month).  Around February, there will also be a special contest issue featuring the winners of and finalists in the Fifth Songs of Eretz Poetry Award Contest.  A Readers Choice Award Contest will follow, allowing the readership to choose its favorite poem from among the non-winning finalists.

I have also decided that Songs of Eretz will be a project funded by love, not by money.  No more contests.  No more fundraisers.  No more asking for donations.  No reading fees for poetry submissions.  Just beautiful poetry accompanied by beautiful art offered to the world to view for free.  The e-zine will go back to paying our guest (non-FC) poets a semi-professional rate of five dollars per poem.  

And while I do hope that contributors will still take advantage of the unique opportunities that providing Poet’s Notes Statements present, they will no longer be required to do so.  Some poets feel (quite strongly) that poetry should “speak for itself.”  Songs of Eretz is going to respect that.

In the past, all illustrations that accompanied our poems were chosen by me from royalty-free images offered online.  Thanks to our new Art Editor, Songs of Eretz was able to publish many original, custom illustrations to complement our poems this year.  Beginning in 2019, Jason’s original artwork will be offered for sale to the general public. (As a courtesy, we will give the poets whose poems inspired the illustrations rights of first refusal).  These one-of-a-kind drawings and paintings, which will be offered framed alone or side-by-side with their poems, will make unique and beautiful adornments to or conversation pieces in any home or simply wonderful gifts.

Finally, in an effort to put more “review” in the Review, at least one review of a poetry collection will appear in each issue next year, and we will begin accepting poetry collection submissions for review.  Since our raison d’ĂȘtre is to promote poetry and poets, we will only publish positive reviews.

So many great things have happened, and even more are to come.  This is only possible due to our loyal readership, generous supporters, and the outstanding talent of our Frequent Contributors and guest poets. Together we have made and will continue to make the world a little more beautiful.

On behalf of Songs of Eretz, I wish you farewell until our first monthly issue appears in the middle of January 2019 and all the best for a happy New Year.

Kind regards,
Steven Wittenberg Gordon, MD

Saturday, December 29, 2018

"it's not easy being not green" by Ross Balcom

it's not easy being not green

a green house looming
a green door

a green monk
green texts and chants

a green fire
a green tongue, darting

green birds
a green sky

only the trees
not green

the trees begging
in the streets

for chlorophyll

--Ross Balcom

Poet's Notes:  The title of this poem is a play on the title of a popular song, "It's Not Easy Being Green."

Editor’s Note:  I admit I misread the title at first and was finding the poem a bit tedious until the end with the begging trees.  Now I have this vision of an albino Kermit T. Frog sitting in the bleached branches of an albino Treebeard.  How deliciously horrifying!

Friday, December 28, 2018

"The Meaning of the Wax Argument" by James Frederick William Rowe

The Meaning of the Wax Argument
James Frederick William Rowe

My words are molten wax
Adrip from lip or pen
Sharing no similarity
To the meaning so signified
Yet known to reason
As the pool of wax
Is known as the same substance
To the candle it once was
My mind knows meaning
My senses – nothing.

Poet’s Notes:  I was teaching John Searle's famous philosophical thought-experiment the Chinese Room in class the other day when I began thinking about meaning on the subway home. Specifically, I thought that just as Descartes said that we do not understand the substance of the wax by our senses, as a candle and a puddle of wax share none of the same properties as one another, the word as spoken and word as read have no intrinsic connection, yet are understood to represent the same thing. Moreover, and more importantly, neither the spoken nor written word has any true connection to the meaning itself, yet still can convey it. This led me to the suitably rationalistic conclusion that "my mind knows meaning / my senses – nothing" as well as providing the pun of a title, where I combine a theme of meaning with argumentation taken from the wax argument.

This poem is simple enough and was written in a single subway ride with no alteration. Of course, wax figures predominately, as I unite the notion of molten wax (which is yet understood to be wax) to the words that both my pen and lips "drip", and later explicitly reference the wax argument to reach the aforementioned rationalistic conclusion.  Amusingly, I didn't even intend for this poem to come out an even ten verses, but it did, and I am pleased with that harmony.

Editor’s Note:  I enjoy the way James waxes poetic here in this clever if heady piece.  Those who wish to wrestle with Searle's Chinese Room may do so here

Thursday, December 27, 2018

"Windrawer" by Alessio Zanelli

Alessio Zanelli

You can never invite the wind,
but you must leave the window open.

                              —Bruce Lee

It will blow only when it has to.
        You can yet make a difference though.
                Whether you stop or you go on
                        fantasizing about the whys and hows.
                                There is no way to master space,
                                        let alone to command time,
                                                even less to influence their flirts.
                                                        And what you pine for is an outcome.

                                                        But you can be aware of that,
                                                as you can be aware of more.
                                        Of the music still audible
                                 once the players are gone,
                         of all the wheres and whens
                you have inadvertently missed.
        Acceptance will definitely make a big difference.
Be it to blow soon or never again.

Poet’s Notes:  This one is about the human illusion of being allowed (if so wanting...) to determine one's own life completely. We can certainly succeed in sketching the big picture, in leaving the least possible to chance and luck, in managing the flowing of things on a large scale and to some extent. But on certain aspects and single events, at times even really momentous and long expected ones, we have little control, if any at all. Hence the big picture will come out the better the sooner we recognize and come to terms with our limitations.

Editor’s Note:  The concrete aspect of this poem has the effect of making the words seem to blow in the wind.  The epigraph works well to set the mood.  There is a certain thoughtful philosophy expressed, too.

Art Editor’s Note:  As with most concrete poems published in Songs of Eretz, I thought it best to allow the poem to act as its own illustration.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

"On Leaving Legals Seafood" by John C. Mannone

On Leaving Legals Seafood
John C. Mannone
            Long Wharf, Boston, 2012

Water taxis ride the sacred
Boston harbor waterways
seemingly with indifference
to American Revolution
echoes dissolved in the waves
and in the whispers of offshore
breeze and boat wind. I know,
I heard them despite the seagull
cries for anything one could throw
them, like manna. And the water,
Holy Moses, split open to green walls 
by boat’s bow leaning into the turn.
Behind me, a wake of history
hidden by sky scrapers, but ahead
to the north and west, the sky
in its prayer shawl, kneels 
at the sight. All I can do is chant
‘Oh my dear Lord’ through the water
filling my eyes. I see her sails
still fluttering freedom. Her sleek
wood painted to hide the blood
of those who gave theirs for me.
A constellation of emotion
upwelling out of the silence
into a roar of gratitude to those
who served on the USS Constitution
for this great ship of State.

Poet’s Notes:  On a business trip in 2012, I visited Legals Seafood’s main restaurant on the wharf in Boston harbor and took a water taxi. The tears welled in me as I saw that great ship floating there, still seaworthy! This poem had been hiding in my spirit for quite some time.

Editor’s Note:  Seeing the USS Constitution (pictured) when I was a boy moved me, too.  John’s poem captures the feelings the sight of her inspired in me.

USS Constitution, a 44-gun frigate, also known as “Old Ironsides”, was launched in 1797 and distinguished herself in the War of 1812 and served as a training ship during the War Between the States.  She remains the oldest ship in active US Navy service.  To find out how this mighty warship earned her nickname, follow this link

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

"Merry Christmas" by Gene Hodge

Merry Christmas
Gene Hodge

It’s four in the morning.
Mr. Sandman missed our house last night
and I couldn’t sleep.
So . . . before traffic awakens
and while the streets
still sleep beneath a blanket of darkness,
I’d like to go look at Christmas lights.
Will you come?

We can drive real slowly . . .
take our time,
and be like children once more.
I’ll make you a cup of hot chocolate
flavored with peppermint sticks,
we can turn the radio down low
and . . . listen to Christmas songs.

Before daybreak chases the magic away
I’ll watch the lights dance on your face
and whisper, “Merry Christmas,
I love you."

Editor’s Note:  Gene really captures the spirit of the season here, and I just adore the way he engages the readers, drawing them into the narrative.  From the editors and staff of Songs of Eretz, a Merry Christmas to all! 

Monday, December 24, 2018

"Concentration Camp" John C. Mannone

Concentration Camp
John C. Mannone
            Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.
            —Luke 23:24
The black & white photograph
metamorphoses into a window,
into a blinding dark
                        past to where a heap
of emaciated forms—skeletons
with mere covering of skin
—become the ghosts of conscience.
                        Their deep set eyes,
gaunt faces staring at me, past
their executioners. Some smile.
Though their lips seem sutured
                        shut, sweet words
of forgiveness slip through
the Polaroid. Those refuse to be buried
with hatred on their tongues.

Poet’s Notes:  When trying to imagine one of the most horrible things I could imagine, I was prodded by some images of the Holocaust. I am haunted by some of those images. I think about hatred, why so much hatred, and about forgiveness, also unimaginable if I were there. 

The structure of the poem is reminiscent of coupled trains—a subtle image that I simply thought of and not obvious in the poem. I wrote this poem; because the Holocaust is something that we should never forget.

Editor’s Note:  A moving poem in both senses of the word. I am the son of a Holocaust survivor and agree that we must never forget.  Forgiveness for such abject cruelty is another matter--one for God, not man, I think, as the epigraph, but not the poem itself, implies.

Art Editor's Note:  The inscription on the photo is from Isaiah 49:16--Behold!  I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands...  For me, the boy represents my generation, now three generations removed from the horror.  It is important that every generation remembers.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

"The Birth of a Dewdrop" by Gene Hodge

The Birth of a Dewdrop
Gene Hodge

Upon the gazebo’s metal roof,
it laughs at the starry sky . . .
then slides downward
through the cool morning,
freeing itself
off the edge
in a graceful swan dive.

In one finale splash
it splatters into a million love drops
and kisses the face
of a smiling deck.

Poet’s Notes: This time of year the humidity is high in the South, and moisture forms heavy on rooftops.  Sitting alongside my gazebo in the early morning while watching the stars and having my first cup of coffee, I heard a heavy drop of moisture splash onto the deck.  Isn't it amazing how something so insignificant to many is of so much importance to a poet?

Editor’s Note:  I love the way Gene employs personification here.  His choice of "finale" rather than "final" in the last stanza creates a poetic finale analogous to that at the end of a fine piece of music.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

"Rescue Dog" by Terri Lynn Cummings

Rescue Dog
Terri Lynn Cummings
I turn to Abbey
when others turn away
when I do not want
my words repeated
when I speak
of nothing or nonsense
on days hollowed
by sorrow

She cocks her head
eyes wide in wonder
stands on my feet
anxious I will leave
as I doubt 
whether anyone ever
belongs to a life
What more is this

but an afternoon 
or a moment’s bow to loss
while I, like she, nothing
but water and air
stitched in skin
ill-shaped and faded
am soothed in mid-sentence 
by paws

Poet’s Notes:  In May, we lost Abbey, the best dog we had ever had. I continue to write about her. Perhaps it is less painful to write about our dog than the more recent loss of our young nephew to opioid addiction. Perhaps the mere thought of Abbey has the power of consolation. Whatever the reason, I thank her again and again.

Editor’s Note:  What a lovely tribute to Abbey, and such a beautiful rendering of how the instinctive empathy of dogs may brighten our days.  Dog owners will really identify with this poem (as do I), and I daresay pet owners in general will as well.

Friday, December 21, 2018

"I Cannot Believe In Ghosts" by Aparna Sanyal, Poet of the Week

I Cannot Believe In Ghosts
Aparna Sanyal
The live son of the dead ghost 
takes liberties we cannot.
For the belly of a beast has been 
his womb for longer
than a life’s gestation.
Grime rubbed streets rise
to greet him, the pavements
carefully cradle his hair fluff,
as he slumbers. 
So, he roams them now,
their rubbled devastation suits
the land-mined expanse of his heart.
He smokes chillums dry,
then races to a grave, nimbler 
and faster than his body cares 
to live. 
Tired before he wakes, 
sleeping without rest is 
his natural state.
Dawn wakes him to nibbles
and scrabbles and the stench 
of just-there 
fears that are his every season:
sun to rain,
rain to sun. 
No wonder then, 
that his beauty blinds me
so surely, so completely, 
that I must un-see him, 
before his scrubbed bright light
eclipses my day. 

I cannot believe in ghosts, 
for if I do, 
their mortal children will
take my breath away. 

Poet’s Notes: Once again, I awaken to an India of giant statues and jumlas, monuments to man’s hubris, as right before our steel and glass homes, millions of unseen ghosts crowd the streets, living their lives on the edges of ours. I weep but do nothing for I too am inured to their plight having lived with them willfully ignoring them my whole life. I too am as guilty of the conditioned apathy that every Indian develops as a coping mechanism to exist in a land that has so many homeless people that they could fill entire nations.

Editor’s Note:  Sadly, homelessness is a serious problem in America, too, though not nearly as bad as in India.  It is a privilege to publish this one as the last poem to appear in Songs of Eretz by Aparna as an FC.

I am so proud of Aparna and what she has accomplished and that Songs of Eretz will forever be a repository of what will become known as some of her "earliest work."  I knew from the moment that I read her first contest poem a year ago that she was destined for great things.  I will certainly follow her career with great interest and will dearly, dearly miss her unique and wonderful contributions to Songs of Eretz. 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

"Tribal" by Aparna Sanyal, Poet of the Week

Aparna Sanyal
          A tribute to Ants Among Elephants by Sujatha Gidla

The wildness at the edges overtakes him 
until he is a man made of vines.
He puts his head into crocodile jaws
and kisses cobras 
before they are given sanctuary. 
He sells the hives that bees forgot 
and toils off
his ancestors’ soil. 
He stares at mud with eyes of glass 
and polishes his knife.
And tries and tries to stab 
the fireflies that flit 
just out of reach. 
But the blueness of the sky 
is not for him.
So, like a boar that cannot raise 
its head to the sky, 
he looks down
until the day 
he dies. 

Poet’s Notes: One of the finest and most searing works of non-fiction that I have read in recent times is the award-winning book Ants Amongst Elephants--The Story of an Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India by Sujatha Gidla. In it, the author chronicles the lives of her family and its history of deprivation and abuse at the hands of higher caste orders over the last century in India. For a person of “privilege” and one who has been raised “high-caste”, this book was an eye-opener; the stories that existed at the margins of my awareness while growing up and that were easy to shrug off as “exaggerated” were made real in this book. Truly, anyone who denies that caste forms a large part of modern Indian society is guilty of playing ostrich.

Editor’s Note:  Many if not all societies have their own versions of a caste system.  The system may be based on differences in wealth, education, the manner of one’s speech, race, sex, religion, or ancestry.  This poem should give every reader pause. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

"Umbilicus" by Aparna Sanyal, Poet of the Week

Aparna Sanyal
Umbilicus dried,
wrapped in white mulmul binding.
Blood, tears, sweat ingrained. 
We thrashed together 
then untethered, apart,
to become mother and son,
fibrous souls undone.
We were birthed, by the act of birth— 
refined, pain blest. 
An alicorn stab, then seconds gasping 
through hazed eyes. 
And a barely recognized fear 
that you and I would never feel
this coupling again. 
This ritual severance of pith would rend us 
So, we—
your father and I,
keep this red thread.
This shriveled rope tether of our nuclei, 
this relic of our being,
for when you are reborn as father.
We will hand it forward then,  
to bind us generational, gestational, 
This umbilicus,
our core. 

Poet’s Notes: If you had asked me a few years ago if I would ever consider keeping a shriveled piece of discarded flesh in the most sacred recesses of my cupboard, I would’ve scoffed. And yet, there it is, the tiny piece of brown cord, a tangible physical piece of the unique connection between my son and me that means more to me than gold. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

"Ode to an Adivasi Woman" by Aparna Sanyal, Poet of the Week

Ode to an Adivasi Woman
Aparna Sanyal

Even bare-breasted, 
you carry the dignity of generations
on your collar bones, 
angled in your defiant chin,
proud and unwavering in your 
No small gaze can bind you,
nor encompass your reckless, luscious 
beauty, torn from strife,
born in dust, tears and wattle.
Formed of bracken and thorn, 
dark corners
and stabbing brilliance speckle your soul. 
Made and unmade in many blood-red suns, 
the grit forms your heart, 
the pain stains you dark. 
A white man labels you savage,
for the brown one, you are meat 
of a different kind.
You talk with so much reverence 
to those who abase you, 
even as your pearl-teeth 
smile to bear the pain. 
Carrying your papoose of cares, 
and a male child on your back;
the only sign to mark your eventual passing,
you wend your way, another day
to another field,
another sunrise, another sunset,
passions that are not yours 
and visions that you never sought 
are fulfilled on this bridge
that is 
your shoulders. 
You have scrabbled for a voice
since the beginning of time,
found, then lost it 
in quick gasps 
and sometime-sultry whispers. 
In that voice, you have formed a song, 
from pain and planets 
and the repeated rending 
of yourself. 
But the cacophony cannot hear 
this fledgling song. 
And strained, once more you have returned 
to silence, 
but not defeat. 
Tamped down, but not abated,
you wait to sing another day. 
Your burr and thistle
makes you the dandelion 
that quivers 
and tumbles, 
but will not shed 
it’s precious grain. 

Poet’s Notes:  This is a tribute piece to every “lower-caste” Indian woman bending in the sun, careworn but not defeated by a rigid casteist hierarchy. She bends but is not broken. And every day she fights to live.

Editor’s Note:  While a powerful tribute to the perseverance of lower caste Indians, this poem could serve as an anthem for any oppressed people. 

Monday, December 17, 2018

"Revisiting" by Aparna Sanyal, Poet of the Week

Editor's Note:  Earlier this month, Frequent Contributor Aparna Sanyal let me know that she had three poems accepted for publication in other prestigious venues and that her debut book of stories in verse, Circus Folk & Village Freaks, made #1 on the Hot New Releases List and #3 on the Amazon India Bestseller list.  Such achievements in the field of writing let alone in poetry are simply astounding, especially considering that Aparna only began to write poetry about a year ago!

The mission of Songs of Eretz is to promote up-and-coming poets.  Aparna has clearly ARRIVED.  Any further commitment to Songs of Eretz would hold back her rising star--the exact opposite of what Songs of Eretz strives to do.  At my recommendation, and with a resolute but heavy heart, Aparna has resigned her position as an FC.

Aparna was gracious enough to say that her experience with Songs of Eretz was valuable to her and helped to make her the poet that she is today.  I am deeply gratified and humbled by her kind words.  As a final tribute to her and as a way of bidding her farewell, Aparna will be featured as a Poet of the Week for the week of December 17, beginning below with "Revisiting". 

Aparna Sanyal 

The wall calls, 
I answer. 
I dig. 
The skeleton is there.
Right behind a layer of 
muddy red bricks and grey 
clay mortar.
Implacably, intricately wrought, the 
clock’s artistry shows in the muscle 
fibre’s weft. 
Woven with an arachnid intensity, 
gristle sticks in symmetrical rails 
to bones.
Yellowing may have begun, but they 
are still rich— the marrow within,
not yet leached of vivacity and 
coagulating but vital blood song.
They sing threads from my past.
Gone, but never forgotten, 
is the burr of
it’s grain, the thistle of it sticking to 
my gown; 
this swan song is never a
I stretch a hand out to an old friend, 
this beast that runs through my 
dreams, wasted and paltry coated, 
but never tamed. 
I am fond of it, the way 
one can be fond 
of nightmares, recollected in bits of stippled 
starlight and sudden awakenings. 
Wilfully scabrous, the skeleton sloughs into my fingers, 
desiccates into memory fragments 
I thought I forgot. 
It wills me to accept it, this melting thing
set to expire, it needs my support
to respire.
In a kiss, I breathe my joy into its mouth.
In a sigh, it gives me my pain. 
For now, the exchange is done, 
I brick this wall up yet again. 

Poets’ Notes: It takes me a long time to forget past traumas. And sometimes, try as much as I like, my subconscious self does not allow me to forget. After many trying nights with mixed dreams that leave me crying and gasping for breath, I often wonder if I am ready to let go of the past, or does my mind choose to retain these memories as a sort of log-book of karmic debts paid and unpaid? Perhaps I need the pain as sharply as I need the relief that follows when I come awake?