We’re overwhelmed by the positive response to our first poetry month. Both weeks, we had talented poets participate, and it was a particular joy to showcase their poems on our blog. During the events, when we received a new poem in our inbox, it was genuinely exciting. We read them right away, and we read them out loud. These poems provided respite and conversation to a very small but very busy publishing house, and then provided discussion and ideas to our audience when they were shared.
So one might ask, if these poems, all of them, already did so much, why recognize “winners?” It’s a valid question, and an important one, and the answer reflects this — because poetry is important and it is valid, and there is significant skill and craft and self employed in the writing of a poem in addition to singing. All of these poems sang, all of them, and it is a human impulse to sing of ourselves and for others, and also, there are poets seriously dedicated to making poems as beautiful as can be borne, and who are in conversation with formal constraints, history, language, and influences. Recognizing such poets forwards poetry for all of us — in the reading and writing of it, and of its significant use in activism, which is desperately required in our world.
Poets are still executed, detained, imprisoned, and otherwise silenced, all over the world, for writing poems. Iranian peace poet Hashem Shabaani was hanged for his work by a tribunal last winter. Susana Chávez Castillo (Mexico), an outspoken poet and women’s rights activist, was found brutally murdered, a crime believed to be associated with her political and artistic expression. Currently, poets Aron Atabek (Kazakhstan), Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami (Qatar), Enoh Meyomesse (Cameroon), and Liu Xia (China) are imprisoned for their poems and speech by their governments or government factions — all in inhumane conditions.
Poems and poets are important. Recognition and promotion of poems is vital. Poems are a vital contribution of speech, and they have often been the speech that has sang the purest, and the loudest, and the most human.
Elizabeth Berry is our 2015 overall winner of Brain Mill Press Celebrates Poetry Month events. Her poems, On Growing Up, submitted to the WORK event, and Stars in the Sky, submitted to the LOVE OR FEAR event, are arresting for their authority, the intensity of their anger at where the women they speak of find themselves, honed with plain language and sharp metaphor. Her two poems resolve nothing in their ending lines, and yet push to the reader to feel catharsis.
Additionally, Brain Mill Press would like to recognize two runners up, G.B. Gordon and Pam Faste. you by Gordon showcases a lyrical attention to language and is deeply romantic without sweetness. We found you to be both spare and heavy with the feeling of the speaker. Faste’s poem, Moment Before, captures beautifully a small and breathless moment of infatuated anxiety that all of us deep in love or like or crush have felt so keenly.
Thank you, everyone, and please share this announcement far and wide.
On Growing Up
On the day that my grandfather died my grandmother lit a cigarette looked down at the stricken faces of her children and said well, we still have this farm to take care of. My mother, then eight, looked out the window at the cows that crowded the fence, waiting for food, for release from the swollen udders, and beyond at the hay, tall in the fields, and at the tractors resting in the sheds, waiting for the long legs of morning to walk up and turn the key.
At eighteen, my mother, as lean and brown as a leather strap covered her face and veiled her reasons to follow my father a hundred miles from home.
Three kids in three years.
Low money, no money, grocery store clerk, pregnant daughter, baby crying all night, no lights, pay that bill but another’s coming.
And so it went for thirty years. Yet every month they would drive back over the mountain as visitors, and sit, drinking tea until the cows moaned and the others rose to go to work.
Occasionally, reluctant to unclasp ourselves from the circle of laughter and soft shadows that floated down from the familiar ceilings, we would follow them to the cool concrete floors, and clanging gates of the milking barn. My mother, face lit by the glow of the yellow interior lights, moved quickly to lead, to coax the herd into position and nodded with satisfaction when they lined up, and did their jobs.
Stars in the Sky
Maybe your cancer has come back and that is why it is so hard to sleep and when you do sleep you wake up with a throat full of sand and you stumble across the worn wood floors to the kitchen for water and gulp it down by the glassful trying not to look at the window because the moon might look back and once you lock eyes with it it’s hard not to notice the blanket of stars that spreads out forever
and there’s just something about a blanket of stars spreading out forever that is destroying you making your heart literally ache in your body as you yearn for a boy’s fat hand in your hand his face a moon shining back in a picture that you keep hidden in a drawer with all of the other sharp knives safe there from stars raining down from skies from windshields exploding on impact.
You rub the scars. Stare out the window.
For this year’s National Poetry Month, Brain Mill Press & Voices wants to add to your #TBR pile, sing siren songs of unsung heroes, and signal boost living poets we should be reading more. By the end of the month, we hope you will have acquired 30+ new books of poetry and that they continue to multiply in the darkness of your library. Explore new voices & new forms — re-read some old favorites — play if you liked this poet, you’ll like . . . the old-fashioned way, algorithm-free — just poetry lovers talking to poetry lovers, as the Universe intended. Happy #NaPoMo2019 from Brain Mill.