Friday, March 31, 2017

“Words as Weapons” by F. J. Bergmann

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Words as Weapons” by F. J. Bergmann.  This poem was a finalist in the 2017 Songs of Eretz Poetry Award Contest.

Bergmann edits poetry for Star*Line, the journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association (sfpoetry.com) and Mobius: The Journal of Social Change (mobiusmagazine.com), and imagines tragedies on or near exoplanets. Recent work appears in: Apex Magazine, Eye to the Telescope, The Future Fire, Twisted Moon, Uut, and elsewhere.

Words as Weapons
F. J. Bergmann

         If words are to enter men’s minds and bear fruit, 
         they must be the right words, shaped cunningly to pass men’s defenses 
         and explode silently and effectually within their minds.
                  —J.B. Phillips, writer and clergyman (1906–1982)

Words are weapons
John Bertram Phillips
that poets have always
been able to conceal and carry:
a haiku’s three-spiked shuriken,
the stiletto of a sonnet,
a six-shootin’ sestina.

Obscene limericks go viral,
infecting entire grade schools.
Rap and hip-hop lyrics
sell by the case from car trunks:
Viva la revoluciĆ³n no televisado!

The use of the hydrogen jukebox
violates the Geneva Convention
and the Kyoto Protocol—
but those who enjoy being violated
line up for blocks.

We set up secret maquiladoras
to manufacture lyrical ammunition,
assessing judicious juxtapositions
for their incendiary potential:
tintinnabulation and pallid,
Porlock and albatross,
brillig and borogove,
concupiscence and ice cream,
cochineal and immortality
detonate on the darkling plain
of the testing range.

In a catacomb beneath a corporate office
I pile high my stolen vocabularies
and slither surreptitiously
back up the stairs after lighting
the slow green fuse.

Poet’s Notes:  Shelley said, "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." Gil Scott-Heron said, "The revolution will not be televised." I believe that literature influences politics and culture more than anything else, because people do not become as defensive when reading or hearing information presented as art, which allows the ideas within it to sneak in, germinate and then explode in green growth. Poetry, because the wording must of necessity be more exact, is the most concentrated and effective form of literature in disseminating subversive ideas. It is not lost on me that the root of the word "verse" means "change." Sub-verse, indeed.

I'm a regular at a local slam and have read at National Poetry Slam several times. What has always impressed me about the best slam poems, which are frequently political, is that they are not mere rants, but use clever narratives and, often, humor in contrast with strong emotion to make their point, and always well-chosen, interesting words. I feel strongly that it's not enough to appeal to ideologues on one's own side; the best work always has something to intrigue any reader or listener, no matter what their political views, and perhaps elicit a connection and a deeper understanding.

Of course, this poem is also a hat tip to some well-known poets besides Scott-Heron—Ginsberg, Poe, Coleridge, Stevens, Dickinson, Arnold, Williams—and a few of their trusty warhorses.

Editor’s Note:  This poem is a nice piece of ars poetica--easily the best I've read by a modern poet.  The bullets Bergmann uses for her poetic gun are unique and wonderful (I admit, I had to look up more than a few).  Her employment of alliteration is just right, not overdone, and I find the narrative riveting. 

Comments by Contest Judge Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, PhD:  It's very hard to pull off a poem about language and especially about poetry, but the poet is quite successful here because of the sharp and sinewy images, the constant and concise wit, and the surprises popping out of each stanza. I loved “the stiletto of a sonnet, a six-shootin' sestina” and the pile of syllables in “....to manufacture lyrical ammunition,/ assessing judicious juxtapositions.” The ending is downright spectacular and also reminds me of some of Dylan Thomas's images. This poem is overflowing with wit, and I loved reading it aloud to hear the sounds that make this poem so musical.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

"Farmhouse" by David Pring-Mill, Frequent Contributor

Farmhouse
David Pring-Mill

It is strange to him
How things can wind and weave
their way into earth,
while also sprouting
up at the sky;
Stranger still
how this County of huge wings
does not lift all men equally,
How the plain house
speaks no tales directly,
though it contains
the marks of many inhabitants —
Furniture dents
and botched repairs.

The young couple eyes the old farm,
considers its possibility:
The soil is still suitable
for all grains.

The eye holds ideas of beauty,
in concert with the physical world,
Like a flirtation that seeks satisfaction.
Some part of beauty is expectation,
And the rest is filled from the outside,
When the world says,
“See here what you wanted,
and now here is the beyond,
what you could not imagine,
what you cannot describe.”

And she feels this in the yard
because it makes her soul quiet,
and gives to her
a level of escape that she only
ever had through music.
A shelter belt surrounds
her newfound gasp of beauty.

They trample past grain storage,
modern machine sheds,
unloading augers,
countless bushels.
This operation also wields
the ferocious knife
of subsidized monopoly.

A Bridge Formula determines the legality
of every haul by Volvo truck —
But the whole farm is a machine,
and she runs smooth.
A set of axles, a set life.
The horizon is a mockery of mind;
The earth is flat and dreams are defined.

And then they stroll
and discuss matters
in open stands of tamarack,
with light green needles on dwarf twigs,
And her blonde hair glows in the sun
exactly where it parts,
And there the strands are inseparable from brightness.
Her green eyes await the new perspectives;
Her skin is still so smooth that it reveals
nothing of their story.

Poet’s notes:  I have probably written more city poems than I have rural ones, even though I am well-familiar with both environments. The country is filled with wonderful and timeless inspirations sights, sounds, an absence of sounds, smells even, all of which connect us to the societal foundation, to the wisdom and work that brought us up as a species. I approached this poem through the vantage point of a couple considering the purchase of a farm. The final two lines create mystery and invite curiosity. Is there something bleak and wrong within the couple’s relationship, or have they merely endured many challenges together? This is left up to the reader’s interpretation.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

“Stranded” by Loretta Diane Walker

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Stranded” by Loretta Diane Walker, the winner the 2016 Phyllis Wheatley Book Award for poetry for her collection In This House.  “Stranded” was a finalist in the 2017 Songs of Eretz Poetry Award Contest.

Walker received a BME from Texas Tech University and earned an MA from The University of Texas of the Permian Basin.  She teaches music in Odessa, Texas, where the Heritage Council of Odessa recently named her “Statesman in the Arts”.  Walker is a recent breast cancer survivor. She believes this is one of the greatest gifts in her life.

In addition to a previous appearance in Songs of Eretz  http://eretzsongs.blogspot.com/search?q=Loretta+Diane+Walker, Walker’s work has appeared in numerous publications, most recently: River of Earth and Sky: Poems for the 21st Century, Her Texas, Texas Poetry Calendar, Pushing Out the Boat International Journal, San Pedro River Review, Illya’s Honey, Red River Review, Diversity: Austin International Poetry Festival, Boundless Poetry: Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival, Pushing the Envelope: Epistolary Poems,  Perception Literary Magazine, Connecticut River Review, The Houston Poetry Festival, Bearing the Mask: Personal Poems of the Southwest, and Yellow Chair Review.  Her manuscript Word Ghetto won the 2011 Bluelight Press Book Award.

Stranded
Loretta Diane Walker

 "Give yourselves to the air, to what you cannot hold."
~ Rainer Maria Rilke ~ Sonnets to Orpheus, Part 1, IV

Your tiny fists curl into eternity.
She longs to feel your tears on her shoulders,
hungry cries echoing in the yawning loneliness of her ears.
She wants to walk the floors with you in her arms.
She will accept fatigue as companion if…
If only…
 
She is stranded on an island of memory.
Marooned with thoughts of your head
thrusting through her thighs,
hands reaching for the lamp of morning,
and the earth swallowing your small coffin.
She watches others escape into the mocking horizon.
For three months the air was your playmate.
When she held you, you kicked-boxed
with its nitrogen filled stomach.

On this hot spring afternoon, she stares out the window;
your name is quiet on her tongue.
Rain was loose with her favors this season.
A riot of bluebonnets and Indian Paint Brush stagger
across the Texas hillside; their petal-heads scream beauty.
Little One, do me a favor.
Loose your forgiveness in the mouth of your playmate;
your mother needs to feel it.
She lives her life ashamed of happiness.
She lives her life clutching a memory she cannot hold.

Poets Notes: Ten years ago my niece and her husband lost their only son due to respiratory problems. He was three-months old.  They have four girls and live full lives, but genuine happiness seems to escape my niece. It teeters around her. When we have family gatherings, she reminds us that she has five children. We have not forgotten him; we have learned to live fully. I desire that for her, too. I wish there were some way her baby boy could give her permission to live a happy, full life.

Editor's Note:  What a moving elegy!  The narrative comes across as being based upon personal experience, as sadly it turns out to be.  Such genuineness is one of the hallmarks of a great poem.

Comments by Contest Judge Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, PhD:  Right away, I was drawn to some of the very unique images, such as “....the earth swallowing your tiny coffin” and how much it conveyed in the size. “For three months the air was your playmate” is also very evocative (and heartbreakingly beautiful). The address to the little one in the final stanza is also very tender, and repeating the “She lives her life...” works well in showing the tension between what's lost and how life goes on regardless. Most of all, I was moved by the plea for forgiveness and peace that permeate this whole poem.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"Five Arrows" by Mary Soon Lee, Frequent Contributor

Five Arrows
Mary Soon Lee

Amid the smell of wild thyme,
on a hilltop in the horse country,
sheep cropping the grass below him,

King Xau sat on an old felt rug
listening to his children
tell him stories.

"My turn!" said Suyin,
Xau's youngest daughter.
"Two sisters and three brothers
met a huge fierce tiger.
The sisters wanted to fight it,
but their big brother wanted to hide,
and the other two brothers
wanted to run away--
I need six arrows for the next bit."

Xau's guard Atun,
one of the three guards on duty,
bowed very gravely to Suyin,
took six arrows from his quiver,
handed them to her.

"The sisters and brothers quarreled,
and the tiger ate them all up."
Suyin gave Xau one arrow.
"Break it, Papa."

Xau snapped the arrow in two,
remembering the one other time
he'd heard this story:
how startled Suyin had been
when Queen Hana gave her an arrow--
a real arrow--
to break.

"Yes!" said Suyin. "Like that!
The tiger ate them up, like that!
Then the tiger met five more
sisters and brothers,
only they didn't quarrel.
They fought side by side
and killed the tiger!"

Suyin used her sash to tie
the other five arrows into a bundle.
"Break them, Papa."

Xau took the five arrows
and tried--not too vigorously--
to break them.

"Papa, may I try?" said Ying.
She took the bundle of arrows
and strained and strained
without success.

"Let me," said Keng, Xau's eldest.
Keng stood up,
placed his boot on one end
of the bundle of arrows,
yanked the other end up,
snapped two arrows.

"No! Keng! Stop!" yelled Suyin.
"The sisters and brothers
are stronger together!"

"I'm sorry," said Keng,
looking more smug than sorry.

Suyin gave Keng a ferocious scowl
before scrambling into Xau's lap.
"Papa, what did you think?"

"It's a very fine story," said Xau,
his arms around her, his heart full.
"But if you keep telling it,
Atun will run out of arrows."

Suyin giggled.

Amid the smell of wild thyme,
far from the palace where his hours
were measured in meetings,
the king with his children.


Poet's Notes:  This is part of The Sign of the Dragonhttp://www.thesignofthedragon.com my epic fantasy in verse, which centers on the heroic King Xau, chosen by a dragon to rule. This particular poem contains no battles, no danger, nothing magical, nothing fantastical. Instead it shows King Xau with his children, an ordinary moment in a life that is far from ordinary.  The opening poem in Xau's story may be read in the Review here:  http://eretzsongs.blogspot.com/2016/03/poem-of-day-interregnum-by-mary-soon.html.

Monday, March 27, 2017

"Words Unspoken" by Sierra July, Frequent Contributor

Words Unspoken
Sierra july

His heart was made of metal
And, thus, he couldn't bleed
Unbeknownst to his makers
He was still able to read
Other worlds and living souls
Came alive through ink and page
Over time his solid core expanded
Into a vessel where feeling could grow

Though he could read
He couldn't speak
What was in that metal heart
None would ever know


Poet's Notes: This is a tale of a robot, made to be intelligent, but still surpasses his creators' expectations. The sad thing is that no one will know how great his metallic brain works or that he has emotions in his mechanical heart because he can't speak his mind. I thought of this one after hearing about some robots that were created for one purpose and are excelling at another, as if they learned a new task; a bit of a scary thought, but amazing nonetheless.

Friday, March 24, 2017

"Foreign Body" by Loretta Diane Walker

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Foreign Body” by Loretta Diane Walker, the winner the 2016 Phyllis Wheatley Book Award for poetry for her collection In This House.  She received a BME from Texas Tech University and earned an MA from The University of Texas of the Permian Basin.  She teaches music in Odessa, Texas, where the Heritage Council of Odessa recently named her “Statesman in the Arts”.  Miss Walker is a recent breast cancer survivor. She believes this is one of the greatest gifts in her life.

In addition to a previous appearance in Songs of Eretz  (http://eretzsongs.blogspot.com/search?q=Loretta+Diane+Walker), Walker’s work has appeared in numerous publications, most recently: River of Earth and Sky: Poems for the 21st Century,  Her Texas, Texas Poetry Calendar, Pushing Out the Boat International Journal, San Pedro River Review, Illya’s Honey, Red River Review, Diversity: Austin International Poetry Festival, Boundless Poetry: Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival, Pushing the Envelope: Epistolary Poems,  Perception Literary Magazine, Connecticut River Review, The Houston Poetry Festival, Bearing the Mask: Personal Poems of the Southwest, and Yellow Chair Review.  Her manuscript Word Ghetto won the 2011 Bluelight Press Book Award.

Foreign Body
Loretta Diane Walker

When I see my naked shadow on the wall,
I want time to redress itself.
This skin scares me.

I can carry a symphony in my belly.
It used to fit a combo; I want the jazz.
Let me squeeze inside the diminished chords.

I can’t understand this new flesh.
Give me back the riffs in my legs,
the be-bop of my hands.

Dawn breathes hard when it wakes.
The breeze sounds like a barking dog.
I want to go back to sleep.

This body has too many secrets.
Too many scars
to eat these tender seeds of light.

Bring back the covers of darkness.
Let the stars hum across the sky.
Let me sing with my eyes.

Poet’s Notes:  July of 2013, at the age of 54, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was not overweight; I lived a healthy lifestyle. I ate fruit and vegetables and worked out five to six days a week. I am not a smoker and wouldn’t even qualify as a social drinker.  I was not worried about cancer; I was more concerned with diabetes because of my family history.  I was right on target with my doctor’s recommendations for prevention.

After I started treatment for the breast cancer, I gained an enormous amount of weight. I increased at least four dress sizes. After getting out of the shower one morning, I saw my shadow on the wall and started crying. This anomaly on the wall did not look anything like me. I remember falling on my painful knees begging, praying I would return to the dress size, the person I was before the cancer; hence, the first seven lines of this poem.

Prior to the July diagnoses, I was competing in 5K runs. I decided to challenge myself and started training to compete in 10K runs. This was in February of 2013. Unfortunately, I sustained an injury to my left knee the first week of March. During the treatment for it, I was off work for four days. On the day I returned to work, I turned to give a student a sheet of paper, fell and reinjured the same knee.  I had to spend twelve weeks in physical therapy. My physical therapist and orthopedist advised me not to run again. I haven’t since that time. I refer to this in lines eight and nine.

I wrote this poem in May of 2016. A combination of things led my thinking down this path. My self-esteem was at an all-time low; I was having painful memories, and internal struggles. I didn’t want to think or feel.  I desired an anesthetic type of sleep. This is addressed in the last stanzas of the poem. Ironically, wonderful things were happening around me in my external world. I had to forgive myself for being angry with my body; it did what it had to do to make me a survivor. For this, I am grateful.

Editor’s Note: I admit that when I first read this, I saw it as a poem about aging, so I was surprised when I received the poet’s notes.  However interpreted, the shadow/darkness/cover conceit works on many levels and has been nicely executed.  I believe many readers will identify directly and even more readers indirectly with this piece.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

"The Bard" by Terri Lynn Cummings, Frequent Contributor

The Bard
Terri Lynn Cummings
   
Desk lures fingers
to keys of perception
Urges me to open blinds

invite a row of pear trees
into the room, blossoms
sweetened with renewal

Mary Oliver’s words
… They save me; and daily *
embrace us

with grace and grit
resist wind and ice
from storms

Loyal limbs bend
or break and grow back
reach for the sky and sing

an ode to Nature.
Life swirls in rings
of struggle and survival

seasoned by generations
Enlightened
I am still here

When I am Among Trees, by Mary Oliver.


Poet’s Notes:  “The Bard” bloomed from a writing exercise in poetry group. My colleague and I had just read “The Poet” in The Lives of the Heart by Jane Hirshfield. We decided to visualize the place where we normally wrote poetry, incorporate poetic devices such as the five senses, choose words and phrases from magazines, and so on. When I thought of the window over my desk, the daily scenes, the onset of fall, this poem sprang from the pen. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

"Scarab Juice" by Ross Balcom, Frequent Contributor

Scarab Juice
Ross Balcom

SCARAB JUICE,

nectar of Egypt,
flows like a golden Nile
in my veins.

My brain blazes;
they call me
THE ILLUMINED ONE.

I stalk the streets
like a god,
JUGGLING PYRAMIDS.
The gates of desire open;
my sperm-choirs sing.
I would scatter my seed
from here to distant 
galaxies--

thrones
of the imperishable
FIRE.


Poet's Notes: A species of scarab beetle was regarded as sacred in ancient Egypt. "Scarab juice," the psychoactive potion referenced in this poem, is a product of my imagination. Let's all get high on EGYPT.