2017 Nemerov Sonnet Award Finalist - Happy and Sad

I was very happy to learn that my sonnet, "In the Attic," was selected as one of the finalists in this year's Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award contest. The poem will be published in an upcoming issue of Measure.

At the same time, I was sad to learn that this will be the last year of the contest. This was one of the few national contests dedicated to poetry in form. The judges were nationally-recognized formal poets, and William Baer, the force behind the contest, is one of the premier advancers of metrical poetry in this country.

There are still some national contests focused on form, including the Able Muse Write Prize and the Frost Farm Prize, among others, for which I am grateful. I only feel sorry for all of us, that we won't have that one dream to aim for any more, that of "winning the Nemerov." That certainly kept me writing some mornings, so thank you for that, Bill Baer.

"They say bread is life..."

I just tried making challah for the first time, using a recipe from a book called The Gefilte Manifesto. It smelled so wonderful baking that it took a ridiculous amount of self-control not to eat it the moment it came out of the oven. But I had made it for lunch--my cousin was coming to visit--and I forced myself to wait.

I came to poetry later in life, and I remember the exact poem that made me want to start writing. I was in a class, Short Story and Poetry (I was really there for the short stories), and one day we were forced to pick a book from a bunch scattered on the table, and find a poem to read. My hand fell on a book, Where Horizons Go, by a Rhina P. Espaillat, someone I'd never heard of. I opened the book at random and began to read the poem there, "Bread." It started, "My daughter-in-law is baking bread for dinner."

What? You could write a poem with the prosaic word "daughter-in-law" in it? You could write a poem about something as ordinary, as real, as baking bread? I read on to the end:

Blessed by time that closes all eyes, that rouse flowers,
blessed by law that moulds the dust of soldiers
into the bones of daughters, that kneads old strangers
into the flesh of children like braided challah.

You could write about challah? At that very moment, I fell in love, with Rhina's poetry, with Rhina herself, with the poem, with poetry. Everything else, as they say, is commentary.

p.s. I later met Rhina and now have the honor of calling her a friend.
p.p.s The challah was delicious, though next time I'll experiment with letting it rise a little more on the second rise...

Tennis without a net

I just learned about this organization, Project Tennis Backboard, who tweeted about my tennis poem. They raise money to put tennis backboards in communities. On the site, a Stanford University tennis coach says, "It’s almost unbelievable how many players have learned tennis and sharpened their games ‘against the wall’!! I must admit, I think the wall is still undefeated…." Maybe he'll change his mind after he reads the poem!

2016 Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award

I'm thrilled to announce that my sonnet, "Tennis Practice Against the Garage Door," was selected by Rachel Hadas as the winner of the 2016 Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award. The poem will be published in an upcoming issue of Measure.

Thanks to the Powow River Poets for helping workshop the poem, and a belated thank you to my son Ely for all that incessant noise! Congrats also to all the finalists, a fine group of poets.

"...it is not good to eat oatmeal alone"

Yesterday, with the temperature -4 degrees for the first time this winter, I had oatmeal for breakfast. I added maple syrup we'd made this past spring, and dried apples that I'd made this fall from apples from the orchard down the road.


Suddenly, this oatmeal held a short history of the year: of my in-laws who donated sap for the syrup; of sitting out in the driveway for hours with my husband, watching the sap boil and enjoying the first rays of spring sunshine; of the orchard owners whose peach crop had failed due to an unfortunate thaw then freeze, and so whose apples I bought in excess in an effort to help them out. Then, faced with, of course, too many apples, after making jars of applesauce and apple butter, pies, and crisps, in desperation I borrowed a hydrator (from the same kind in-laws) and made dried apples, which now topped this oatmeal.

And then there was the oatmeal itself, which reminded me of the wonderful poem "Oatmeal" by Galway Kinnell, whom I heard read this up at the Frost Place in Franconia, New Hampshire, many years ago. It starts: 

I eat oatmeal for breakfast.
I make it on the hot plate and put skimmed milk on it.
I eat it alone. 
I am aware it is not good to eat oatmeal alone.
Its consistency is such that is better for your mental health
if somebody eats it with you.
That is why I often think up an imaginary companion to have
breakfast with.

With everything crowded into this bowl of oatmeal, I definitely don't "eat oatmeal alone"!

November quiet

Thanksgiving has come and gone, with lots of great family time. Now it's quiet here again, and I pulled out a poetry book to enjoy in front of the fire, From the Box Marked Some Are Missing (Hobblebush Books, 2010), by Charles Pratt. My family and I used to visit Charles and Joan Pratt's orchard, Apple Annie's, and it became a very special place for us. In the poem "November: Sparing the Old Apples," he describes the old trees in the orchard  as "...broken-winged umbrellas/Black sea birds drying angular wings on a rock." The poem ends with him knowing what he should do but can't: "And I put my chainsaw away for another November/As if having endured conveyed some right to endure." There's something both exhausted and strong in that last line that appeals greatly to me.