Winning Poems for July 2013

Judged by Robert Sward

First Place

The Portrait of Vladimir Ilyitch Lenin

by Alex Nodopaka
Muse Motel

I acquired the painting at a major discount from a dealer of antiques
on account of the housing market collapse of 2008 and began research
into old archives for portraits of the Bolshevik with a white goatee.
After browsing through a multitude of portrayals, I could have drawn

the man blindfolded, yet could not find a single one with a white goatee!
The lower right corner of the painting bore two fat initials: R.G.
and the back of the gessoed panel sported some illegible pencil scribbles
and a glued tag identifying a framer from Frankfurt. Anyone could have

bought a frame there and affixed the painting but the masterly stroked
oil on board was thumb tacked by a peculiarly styled pin head perforated
with two diametrically opposite small holes. The painting was not dated,
which sent me trying to put a time frame on the masterpiece.

Now, if anything, I know much about push pins and who invented which
and when. At that point I still had no clue as to who the painter or
the poser were. Frustrated I researched the owner of the painting who kindly
had himself identified on the back of the artwork with a neatly typed label:

Eigentumer: architekt Stefan-Blattner. When I discovered who he was
my mouth dropped open in awe at his reputation. Here I had some
documentation as to the painting’s provenance though did not relish
the individual being associated to Joseph Goebels. Then I remembered

the Germans identified all their belongings, especially the stolen paintings,
and meticulously documented their misdeeds, thus martyring their hostages
while also disposing of their gold dental contraptions. I only wanted to
document my purchase even if it was of dubious provenance. In the end

I convinced myself it was not the authenticity of the portrait that mattered
but the architect or some guru of the same Bauhaus school because further
down the article I could not help notice references to Le Corbusier, G. Candilis,
G. Godefroy and A. Nodopaka. That last name by no accident was my father

who surely knew Lenin at least by sight. Driving home with my purchase
I smelled a revolting odor of stale cigarette smoke coming from the canvas.
I comforted myself with having some knowledge of artwork restoration
and that by rubbing a fresh onion over the face of the painting would

remove surface grime but since the waft would remind me of a cheap pizza parlor
I would do a final rub with a fresh lemon and use the rind in my Vodka.
At last I could toast Trotsky’s hammer and sickle bitter sweet assassination
and Lenin’s mummification aromatised with a mouth puckering affair!

I like the energy of PORTRAIT OF VALDIMIR LENIN, the liveliness of the piece, the "telling" of a story, the narrative sweep, the humor and ambition of the poem.

I admire too the poet's attention to detail ("a peculiarly styled pin head perforated with two diametrically opposite small holes...") and that the details are in keeping and in rhythm with the rest of the poem. And I'm drawn in by the wry humor of lines like "Now, if anything, I know much about push pins and who invented which and when." Seemingly "flat" as poetry, that line and others like it, are in harmony with the voice and rhythm of the rest of the poem.

Though not a great fan of "prose poem," PORTRAIT wins me over, convinces me of the virtues and value of the form. It strikes me, too, that there's a rightness to the choice of the prose poem form over other forms this poet might have chosen. In fact, the more time I spend with PORTRAIT, the more I like it. And I like the sense of "truthiness" of the poem, it feels right, it feels real. And, yes, fellow fans of Stephen Colbert, truthiness can be used in a positive way. Beyond "truthiness," I want to ask if there's such a thing as a nonfiction poem? I think there is and PORTRAIT is a good example.

And I like too that the poet apparently has some "real" knowledge of the craft he describes, as when he/she writes, "I comforted myself with having some knowledge of artwork restoration and that by rubbing a fresh onion over the face of the painting would remove surface grime..." Yes, in context, I think that's an entirely necessary and compelling line of poetry. It's a choice detail and one that helps put PORTRAIT over the top. It's a winner of a poem! Congratulations. --Robert Sward

Second Place

awake Yeshurun!

by Daniel Abelman

where the heat-maze meanders and fossils
cobble the fata morgana between
wadis beyond Yeshurun’s hills – the cave

of the hidden Lion, whose shimmering
Crown-Keter of ten butterflies trace gold
sphirot, and entrance in he(i)lical rings

Yeshurun braids secrets in Lion’s mane,
blessing the clouds for the month of Tishrei
talks to butterflies about This-and-That
and Ams-what-they-Am and of Other-Things

and the mountain clouds of Heshvan coil in
bind the above-waters with those below
and the full moon scurries, cloaks her beacon

behind the bleak shrouds of low Kislev sky.
Yeshurun kindles an olive-oil lamp
from Ararat’s sprig pressed in a dove’s beak

come the month of Tevet, four, see the glow
skirt the maze to the cave; dodge butterflies
while emanating slipknots through a mane

as Lion rumbles, and roars echoes of
creation from his maw. Sinai horn-blasts
fan whirl-fire chariot wheels, teamed to
Jacob’s ladder and Yeshurun’s reverie.

from the cave – that jaw – three emerge. one is
deranged; one realizes This-and-That
and Ams-what-they-Am and Other-Things; one
is changed. the fourth remains devoured by awe

midnight, the hidden Lion unlaces his
macrame’ed mane with a purr; Yeshurun
rests on a proffered paw dreams to flutters
of a butterfly snore. of Hermon’s springs;
of Shvat, when feral almonds blossom pink

It would have been helpful for the poet to have included an epigraph that somehow identifies Yeshurun (sorry, this reader should know who Yeshurun is, but... in fact, he needs a little help.

Still, the poet communicates well his (or her!) love for language, for the "sound," for the sheer delight in the English language. There's more than a hint of Coleridge and the old Testament and, to my ear, Romantic poetry and the Book of Revelations.

But it's a send-up, I believe, and yet one is drawn in, drawn in in spite of oneself to the lushness, the mystery, the humor ("the This-and-That-and Ams-what they-Am and Other things." There' s something of the comic in this and that doesn't especially detract from the whole "Romantic poet quality.

And the poet's speaking of "butterfly snore." I confess, I haven't heard that expression before. Nor "feral almonds blossom pink." Feral almonds? Blossom pink? Go for it, my friend! --Robert Sward

Third Place

The England I love

by John Wilks
The Write Idea

is a land of boredom,
of early closing and Sunday observance,
where women’s work is the weaving of sorrows
into stronger cloth, while the weekly wash flaps
in back gardens as if they were harbours for
a fleet of galleons bound for the Empire’s
farthest isles. My children do not walk if they
can run, do not run if they can skip. Their school
is a bombsite overgrown with weeds, not yet
become a New Town’s concrete henge. Strong men weep
dry-eyed over a handful of silver coins clutched
in calloused palms. The grease and grime of honest
toil etches cheiromantic lines deep in flesh,
to fix the future as firmly as a black-
and-white photograph. Mother tunes the wireless
to Workers’ Playtime, polishes the walnut
veneer as it warms up with the yellow glow
of valves and sings along to patriotic
songs as if the War was never won. My heart
weighs more than our ration of meat, yet simple
fare as love seeks to provide is sustenance
enough for families content to survive.
I know my place, know my role by rote within
that place. No more do I need than certainty.

Yes, the title's ironic, but the poem expresses deep affection for the place, however "boring" he or she might find it. In truth, I believe only a Brit could speak so fondly of the "grin and bear it" quality of the country and admire the spirit of the place and speak in favor of the "grease and grime of honest toil." Yes, THE ENGLAND I LOVE comes alive and cuts through the "gloom" and oppression, praising what his/her countrymen hold in reserve.

There's more than the ring of truth to the poem and one of its virtues is author's ability to conjure up if not name whatever it is that the Brits hold in reserve. For this reader, THE ENGLAND I LOVE comes alive and finds expression in the last two lines "

"I know my place, know my role by rote within
that place. No more do I need than certainty."

There's something emotionally satisfying, a certain inevitability, a "rightness" to this ending. --Robert Sward