2014 Poetry Contest
W.B. Yeats Society of N.Y. 2013 Poetry Competition
The W.B. Yeats Society of New York poetry competition is open to members and nonmembers of any age, from any locality. Poems in English up to 60 lines, not previously published, on any subject may be submitted. Each poem (judged separately) typed on an 8½ x 11-inch sheet without author’s name; attach 3×5-inch card with name, address, telephone, e-mail. Entry fee is $8 for the first poem and $7 for each additional. Include self-addressed stamped envelope to receive a copy of the report, like this one. A list of winners is posted on our Web site around March 31. First prize $250, second prize $100. Winners and honorable mentions receive one-year memberships in the Society and are honored at a Society event. Authors retain rights, but grant us the right to publish/broadcast winning entries. These are the complete guidelines; no entry form is necessary.
The deadline for our 2015 competition is February 1st. Awards will be presented at an event in April. For information on our other programs, or on membership ($40 and $30 per year, full-time students $15), visit our website, or write us at the National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South, New York NY 10003.
2013 contest report of the judge, Bill Zavatsky
Last year I picked three poets from Massachusetts as winners of this contest; this year I have picked all women, though I didn’t know that 0when I was making my choices, of course.
A year ago I didn’t hazard a guess about why so many good poets came to the contest from Massachusetts, but maybe it won’t be out of order if I speculate on the fact that all of this year’s winners are female. I am not going to say that women are better poets than men. But women poets often have something that poetry deeply needs, and that many men don’t have, or have in small supply, and that is a direct line to feeling. Men often spend a lot of time living in their heads. Women often primarily grasp the world with what C. G. Jung called the feeling function, one of the Four Functions in his famous system of human types that includes thinking, sensation, and intuition. We don’t get a purchase on reality through only a single function, though, and Jung made this clear; the dominant function has a wing function that is almost as highly developed as the dominant function. Allied to feeling would either be sensation (how the world comes to us through our senses) or intuition—and of course the word “women’s” has not been long joined to the word “intuition” for nothing.
I won’t go further into Jung’s system right now, but it’s something that a poet—male or female—might look into. In his thinking these Functions are also directly linked to introversion and extraversion, whether one has an outgoing personality or lives more inwardly. After a little study, you might be able to find yourself in Jung’s system, and discover that you are a thinkingintuitive type who is an extravert. At which point you can go to work on your feeling function and your sensation function, trying to create what used to be called a “well-rounded personality.” As we know, Yeats loved systems of this kind, so I don’t feel that I’m going out on a limb by bringing in a few of Jung’s ideas.
Alisha Kaplan, a runner-up in last year’s contest, took first prize this year with a poem that begins casually, with its persons chatting about tattooing, and swiftly and skillfully brings us to realization that not all tattoos are frivolous. Indeed, they have been for millions a symbol of life and death. The poem made me remember when the Mill Luncheonette on Broadway near Columbia University was owned and operated by Jews whose tattooed numbers were impossible to miss as they handed you a dish of ice cream. (Today the establishment is called the Korean Mill Luncheonette.) I love the clarity and economy with which Ms. Kaplan strategizes her poem, and none of it feels artificial or forced. And the feeling that the poem carries is powerful, no matter how simple the statements in it.
Mary Legato Brownell’s second-prize poem has a cinematic quality, a step-by-step, highly detailed walk back into the past during which the poe ’s camera-eye misses nothing because the sacred place that is returned to must be approached with reverence for every memory it contains. At the same time in this return-tothe- past narrative, there is a philosophical drama unfolding. Can we ever return to place of joy that is now contaminated by experience, by loss? The language the poet (or her surrogate) drafts back into is the language of tears and regret. There is no going back, but poetry can recoup something of temps perdu because poetry is inextricably joined to memory. And poets are fated to remember, whether tears come or not. Again, the emotional power comes through the accrual of minute particulars that are charged with feeling for the narrator.
We get a bit of Ireland in Margaret J. Hoehn’s poem, and maybe the difference between New York and Dublin is that messages there are still chalked on the sidewalk. (Here it is mostly hopscotch diagrams, directions to Verizon technicians, or Boticelli paintings in full color.) Ms. Hoehn’s poem is a straightforward plea not to turn away from a mirror image of our own loss presented by chance to us in all its nakedness in the street. I liked the full-feeling here, the risk of sentimentality that in fact skirts the sentimental because of the first-rate employment of details.
Last year Victoria Givotovsky also won a runner-up award. She consistently writes excellent poems. In “The Door” we are led into a night world that is as disorienting as it is ours. Sometimeswe are condemned to wander through our own rooms as if theywere a prison of blacks and greys punctuated by disturbing sounds, our own hope that the darkness will eventually attenuate “into gray,” the first signal that morning is on its way.
“The river a shimmer, a trick of light atop green tow,” is the first line of Nan Becker’s untitled poem. “Tow” is the “coarse and broken part of flax or hemp prepared for spinning;” or “a bundle of untwisted natural or man-made fibers..” So the river is woven orpre-woven here, a kind of art product. The poem’s complex unfolding bears this out in a Stevensian way that echoes with music. But an inner narrative emerges that is not unlike that of Mary Legato Brownell’s poem. “All that went before we met and after left,” she tells us; “we appropriate life gone.” “Hear it hear what would be here.” “What would guess whatever we had was separate.” So amid the rhapsody comes the sorrow, but as a dull regret and ithout tears; rather with the memory of birdsong and flight.” But now whatever the narrator and the implied listener had is “separate.” Whereas Ms. Brownell stalks and is stalked by ever past moment, Ms. Becker has to fight through her visions (her poetry) to find the feeling, but the feeling comes.
Our last runner-up is Francesca Capossela. Her poem “Going south” appealed to me with its toughness and Kerouackian feeling. “Hit the road,” she tells us, but all the wild images that appear to the traveler on the road are frightening, sometimes even degrading, pushing one towards thievery and sex. This kind of travel is really flight, which I suppose leads to discoveries of a sort, but the discovery here, the poet tells us, is “transcontinental sadness, guiding you home” to, one supposes, another kind of static sadness. This poem has terrific movement and more than a little desperation. Its imagery is original and powerful, and more than suggests that a real poet is driving the car.
As we think about these poems and rereadthem, I want to thank Andrew McGowan and Don Bates and the other members of the W. B. Yeats Society who make this annual contest possible, and who have been kind enough to ask me to judge it for the past two years. I think that American poetry is traveling through a very rich period, and that this richness is reflected in the poems of these winners.
2013 Winning Entries
It’s Sunday afternoon and we’re sitting on my roof, talking about tattoos. Damian won’t get one because he likes the idea of being pure. Lulu would if she wasn’t afraid of needles. Jane has three and I think they’re all stupid but I would never tell her that. I tell them how I want to get a Zen Buddhist symbol but I wouldn’t because I’m not a poser and I couldn’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery and it would probably kill my grandmother. Then, as the Holocaust often sneaks its way into my conversations, I mention her number. Damian asks if she ever considered getting it removed. Jane says it would be a great story to write about. Lulu shoots her a dirty look. I agree, it would be a good story, but I don’t think it’s one I could write because my grandma would never remove her number. I know then that I can’t ever get a tattoo because her number will always be there, a permanent souvenir of pain far worse than needles, far deeper than ink in skin, so anything I write on my body will be trivial, no, an insult. Though I never would do such a thing the only tattoo I could get would be my grandma’s number.
I turn from the curb on 17th near Chestnut and walk past the parking
attendants, and remember having handed them the worn keys to my
car when we would arrive, how kind they were and how naive I was
as they opened the doors and lifted our suitcases, your computer,
our canvas book bags, sometimes a grocery sack of sparkling water,
bananas, cashews. Two naval oranges. Biscotti I’d baked for you the day
before your plane would land. All this I remember in a compression
of images and sounds as iridescent and divisional as the cardinal I now
watch each evening as he cuts the waning light of summer into startling
facts, swooping across the small yards of my neighborhood in an endless
search for instinct’s place to pause. Under a stone portico, the hotel
entrance was framed in granite carvings of small leaves, and opened
to an elevator paneled in rose walnut whose mechanisms of movement
were so polished with lavender oil, I could not feel them, invisible as
they were to any sense of my own body’s gravity. Framed in thin strips
of pounded brass, the elevator doors closed to the disappearing ground
and opened seconds later, thirty feet above, to the marbled continent
of the lobby. I remember the flush and whisper of those doors,
the domestic secret of being alone with you, briefly, for an inscrutable
moment of tenderness, the way I felt as you checked us in–
that the coming days and nights were to be an outlier’s showdown, that
I was an outlier, too. I know, now, that in a life you must drift back
into the language that is your language. I remember the hotel bar, its
arched entrance, and hesitate tonight, walking instead to the nearby
Ladies Room to wash my hands and close my eyes. I remember telling
you about the startling power of the hand dryer’s force, how the skin
over my fingertips vibrated as the moisture was whisked away. I
loved that we laughed over that. I dry my hands tonight as I did then,
and walk to the bar’s entrance as if there is a sound I have suddenly
forgotten. Against the nearest wall, the same small couches are
upholstered in a soft red fabric woven in Spain. We settled best
in public places¾in churches, in synagogues, seats in restaurants,
seats on benches, seats on buses. In hotel bars we ordered scotch;
sometimes martinis. Coffee once. The bartender always brought
a small white bowl of almonds mixed with raisins and sunflower
seeds, and we’d lay out the ceremony of our pens and napkin scraps
of words. Today I’m sitting on my side of the far couch. Deep pillows
cushion the wood curve of its back. I have taken out my black pen,
my paper, my list. The bartender has brought a small white bowl
of almonds, settling it to the small table in front of me. A balding man
at a far-end stool tells the woman leaning to him that someday he wants
to take a submarine trip, not in a glass-bottom tourist boat, where looking
into the sea mirrors the inside of a well-groomed fish tank, but one in which
the air pressure is countered, and the hallways are wide enough for only
one person to walk along at a time. He tells her that his children are
nineteen and fifteen. She tells him she’s been to Hawaii, that he should
go someday because he will never eat such fresh fish in his life if he doesn’t.
He thinks she is dazzling. When the bartender brings my scotch, I asked her
if I can sit here for a while, and confess that I am not a guest in the hotel.
She smiles. Of course I can, and then I cry, drifting back into the language
that is my language.
The anarchy of grief can clutch a man's hand and set it in motion, can compel him to kneel on the sidewalk beneath the cottonwoods' blur of silver, and print both prayer and poem in chalk with words so bare they throw open the doors and windows of his house so all who walk by can see inside the rooms where he lives. And in our looking we might see our own tired faces mirrored back, our own shabby cupboards of loss and regret. How else to explain why we look away from this man as we skirt around him, why we don't hold him in our arms and help him to stand. How else to explain why we act as if nothing is amiss in a world where one of us is missing, and another is on his knees willing himself to become the North Star or whatever else it might take to bring the lost home.
by Nan Becker
The river a shimmer, a trick of light atop green tow, blooms sideways, ripples that answer the wind’s calling. Eases then, when enamel still, yields as if it’s lost sight of its persuasion, knowing neither trouble nor fatigue. It does not seem to bother with breath but waits —suddenly a great believer in surprise. Waves, the “theys” follow, pools of themselves, silent shadows that move like an old sadness changing its mind, gentled by passing —life after life concurring to go through, to go on, all that went before we met and after left, guessing though guessing, none of it means terrible things, or joyous— we appropriate life gone, unsentimentally, none of it meaning harm, although it does, did, and like a bird’s tip-toe, leaning, it calls. Hear it hear what would be here. Hear the downy drum behind a robin’s slow purdy, hear the whomp of a heron flying low over a river that streams a stone. Who would guess whatever we had was separate.
by Victoria Givotovsky
Cornwall Bridge CT
as when you wake late into the night and sounds sound strange in the dark a door banging somewhere the wind shifting where you can't see and your feet find the floorboards move carefully along the corridor until you reach the other room where you lie down on a sheet-straightened bed still hearing the door somewhere bump into its frame the noise at unexpected intervals startles you so you turn on a light and leaf through a book but the print does not speak to you in the same way as the stuttering door speaks to you so you turn off the light — the room suddenly ablaze with black — and you listen until the door stops its halting sentences and your eyes see how the night has shifted how the sky fattens into gray
Hit the road. not hard enough to lose consciousness but firmly, the way you would slap your lover, if you had the kind of lover that needed to be slapped, or the guts to hurt someone, so that when you pick your head up, pulled over on the side of the road by the muddy Mississippi, you mean to be there. Reflected in hollow eyes, the white lines glide under your tires like synchronized swimmers. Like cellphones in outer space these open planes and everglades are too artificial. Painted like a postcard, written like a slant rhyme. You get tired of the open road when going to go is dead and gone and over the payphone your mom is belligerent and then saccharine and she wants you home again. There are clichéd coffee grinds and gas station loners that glide their greasy eyes over your greasy body. you pay seven dollars to use their shower and the soap smells like melons and cigarettes and tears. You’d like to steal the stars out of the bruised sky like the candy bars you pocket in grocery stores. You’d like to photograph the car lights moving to the beat of the radio Hit the road Because there’s nowhere to go but down. Nothing to do but fall. Watching Kansas fly by through the rainy window, like a kid curled up in a sterilized sitting room or on the floor of a hospital ward, whispering to you through miles of traffic and hundreds of relapses and seconds to spare till they know This is your transcontinental sadness, guiding you home.
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