Poetry

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Rabbi Balfour Brickner and Marina Tempelsman (one of the four winners), at the 1999 ceremony for the Reading of the Poetry Winners.

When Elisa Brickner died at age 17 in a 1973 horseback riding accident, it was a tragedy for all who knew and loved her.

But thanks to the generosity and thoughtfulness of her father, the late Rabbi Balfour Brickner, that heartbreaking loss became the impetus for a gift that even now, four decades later, continues to touch the lives of many. It is a moving example of a bereaved parent turning loss into an opportunity to bring joy and benefit to others.

Wishing to memorialize his young daughter in a way that would be meaningful and reflect something of who she was, Rabbi Brickner that same year established and funded the Elisa Brickner Poetry Corner at the Chilmark Public Library. The Rabbi and his family were longtime Menemsha summer residents. Because Elisa loved poetry, he sought to foster that same love in other youths and all who would visit the little library, both in summertime and year round.

Today, the Elisa Brickner Poetry Corner collection contains well more than 1000 volumes for both adults and children, thanks to the rabbi’s significant generosity. But that was only the beginning.

In 1993, Rabbi Brickner approached the library again, sending a letter with a new, far-reaching proposal.

“We feel it is time to expand the memorial in a new and challenging way,” he wrote. “We propose the establishment of an annual poetry contest to be known as the Elisa Brickner Annual Poetry Contest.”

One year later, in 1994, the contest for junior high and high school students was launched and immediately attracted hopeful young poets, dreaming of recognition for their creative work.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the well-loved competition, which is now underway, with entries accepted until August 11.

In addition to honoring the winners, the Elisa Brickner Fund, to which the rabbi added from time to time, enables the library to award them substantial cash prizes. Usually given to only the first and second place winners, this year a cash award will also be presented to the third prize winners in observance of the anniversary.

According to Kristin Maloney, the library’s program coordinator, from the very beginning the contest has drawn 35 to 50 entries each year from both year-round Islanders and summer residents. She said that many of the previous contest winners have gone on to be actively involved in writing endeavors, from poetry to novels and plays for both stage and screen.

This year’s judges are John Maloney, Donald Nitchie, and Laura Wainwright. Marlan Sigelman, summer library assistant who is also a poet, will join the usual three-judge panel for this 20th anniversary contest.

Judging takes place promptly after the deadline date and winners are invited to read their pieces at a library ceremony on Monday, August 18, at 5:30 pm.

“One of the special parts is the ceremony and the reading of the winners’ poems,” said Ms. Maloney.

For many years Rabbi Brickner would faithfully attend the ceremony, serving as emcee and announcing and congratulating the winning student writers. Since his death in 2005, his son Rabbi Barnet Brickner participates whenever possible.

Ms. Maloney said that previous winners and family members often attend the ceremony to meet the successful contestants and hear their poems. She added that earlier prize recipients have told library staff how meaningful it was to have their poems chosen, and both they and their families have fond memories of the occasion.

“The kids say how honored they were to be acknowledged and taken seriously,” Ms. Maloney said. “They say how important it was to them.

“Kids don’t really have an arena to be celebrated for writing poetry, unlike sports or performing arts. This ceremony spotlights their talent and who they are. They’re really appreciated.”

Winning poems have been displayed in a scrapbook since the beginning. As a special feature of this anniversary, the library will publish a book compiling all winners from 1994 through 2014. The volumes will be given to the contest winners, all local schools and libraries, and will be available to the public.

The contest

The Elisa Brickner Annual Poetry Contest invites entries from students in two age categories: Junior High School (entering grades 6 through 8), and Senior High School (entering grades 9 through 12).

Contestants may submit one original poem: any length, style, or subject, typed or printed on 8 1/2” by 11” paper. The writer’s name must not appear on the submission. A cover sheet with name, grade category, and contact information must be attached.

First prizewinners in each category will receive $200; second and third prizewinners will receive $100. Winning poems will be read at a ceremony on August 18 at 5:30 pm.

The deadline for submitting poems is August 11 at 5:30 pm. Entries may be mailed, faxed, or delivered in person.

For information, call 508-645-3360 or visit chilmarklibrary.org/youth.php.

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Twenty eight restless kids peer out over the rails

but there’s no wind to fill Shenandoah’s sails

The bunks are made and clothes all put away

Everyone on board hopes we’ll sail today

No one likes the situation we are in

Even the crew’s patience wears thin

Several small hands scrub the deck clean and dry

and the Black Dog burgee is raised up high

Yet like Old Glory it just hangs straight down

and a thick, white fog covers the town

Two days in Holmes Hole is too long for me

but worse for 5th graders bound for the sea!

Ol’ Cap’n Bob keeps an eye to the sky

searching for signs that a change is nigh

He is first to notice the dense fog lifting

getting lighter and finer like flour Cook is sifting

All of a sudden, the sunlight breaks through

Cap’n Bob knows exactly what he must do.

“All hands!” he shouts to his novice crew

The children line up. Well, most of them do

They grab the lines making sure they aren’t caught

chanting while hauling the main sheets taut

Up go the sails. What a beautiful sight!

Knowing together we did it just right.

Now out of the Harbor and on into the Sound

Off to Tarpaulin Cove our great ship is bound!

Ruth Major, an oil painter and writer, is working on a collection of poems called “Islander.”

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Attention all young poets! The 20th annual Elisa Brickner Poetry Contest sponsored by the Chilmark Public Library is now underway.

“Don’t forget to enter!” says program coordinator Kristin Maloney.

The contest welcomes entries from young people entering grades 6 through 12. There are two age categories: Junior High School (grades 6, 7, 8), and Senior High School (grades 9, 10, 11, 12).

Contestants may submit one original poem of any length or style, on any subject, typed or printed on 8 1/2” by 11” paper. The writer’s name must not appear on the submission, but a cover sheet with name, grade category, and contact information should be attached.

Three Island writers will judge the submissions. First prizewinners in each age category will receive $200; second and third prize winners will receive $100. Winning poems will be read at a ceremony at the library at 5:30 pm on August 18.

Deadline for submitting poems is August 11, 5:30 pm. Entries may be mailed, faxed, or delivered in person.

For information and details, call 508-645-3360 or visit chilmarklibrary.org/youth php.

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Poet Annette Sandrock performed her spoken word piece during the fourth annual summer solstice celebration at Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs on Thursday evening.

Although the official Summer Solstice would not take place until Saturday, a band of creative writers and musicians at Featherstone Center for the Arts could not wait another minute, and gathered to celebrate the new season on Thursday evening.

Dozens of people came to watch poets perform during the fourth annual Summer Solstice Celebration.

Dozens of people came to watch poets perform during the fourth annual Summer Solstice Celebration. — Michael Cummo

The sun took her sweet time sinking behind the trees, splashing the rich green lawns with vibrant patches of gold as revelers began arriving. They trooped up the amphitheatre slope bearing chairs, blankets, picnic gear, and extra warm layers just in case.

While one might have expected a jolly festival of rowdy dance, rollicking music, singalongs, and giggles, this celebration had a very different flavor, honoring the transitional spring-to-summer moment in a serenely thoughtful style.

Poet Ellie Bates, who organized this fourth annual Summer Solstice Celebration, welcomed the audience members, now settled comfortably on the grass, sipping and snacking, chatting, and marveling at the beauty of the still-sunny evening.

As the program went on she introduced a talented line-up of home-grown Island poets. Most, she reported, are members of the Martha’s Vineyard Poets’ Collective and the Cleaveland House Poets. Many had read at Featherstone, Pathways, and elsewhere; some had taught workshops, a few had one or more books to their credit.

Delighted with the audience turnout, and the large number of readers taking part, Ms. Bates said she felt the event was a perfect kick-off to the season and the Pathways, Featherstone, Noepe Center Summer Festival of Poetry held here in July and August.

Poet Clark Myers read a poem he wrote.

Poet Clark Myers read a poem he wrote. — Michael Cummo

Annette Sandrock’s sweet story-poem told of a daisy she picked in Spain, the happy day they spent – woman and flower: “I showed it birds, I saw the world from its point of view,… Me and Daisy, walking the path.” Her words gave the little blossom a personality, delicate and precious. We want to meet it.

Jill Jupen offered meditations on life, death, and their mysteries. In a flock of raucous crows she saw Cambodian elders, huddled, chattering: “everyone talking at once.”

Artist Harry Seymour paired his poems with paintings, modestly admitting this was his first attempt at poetry. No disclaimer was needed for his strong verses, including the powerful “Empty Swings,” a passionate cry-out against gun violence.

Barbara Peckham deftly moved from outrage in a diatribe against heartless politicians ignoring the poor and powerless (“while God’s children weep”) to a lusciously lyrical poetic seascape: “Miss Ocean wears her blue green dress embroidered with crystal beads…” We envision it appearing as a children’s picture book one day, iridescent illustrations to match the sparkling words.

Winonah Harrington tossed a bouquet of haikus, floating like bubbles, glittering spontaneous images suggesting stories. Clark Myers evoked old-fashioned family life in recalling his grandmother Ada.

Shellion Hamlett, left in jean jacket, and poet Winonah Harrington enjoying the performances.

Shellion Hamlett, left in jean jacket, and poet Winonah Harrington enjoying the performances. — Michael Cummo

There were more poets, and words kept on coming, rhymed and unrhymed, couplets, haikus, free form, evoking moods from dark to lighthearted, contemplative to zany.

Edgartown Poet Laureate Steve Ewing topped off the heady mix with his newly minted “Slow Roll,” describing memorable first-time treats with economical images: childhood ice-cream, chilled Campari in Italy, red poppies abloom in France. Then he described a magical sensation, a subtle shift as he sat outdoors at twilight: “The sun stopped setting and the earth took over.”

Also sharing their talents and poems were Ann Lees, Jennifer Smith Turner, Scott Crawford, William Waterway, Ms. Bates who offered a verse along with providing introductions, and Marianne Goldberg (whose poem, in her absence, was read by Annette Sandrock. 

Three easy rocking tunes by Lizzy Bradley and Mark Mazer, began with “Georgia on My Mind,” Ms. Bradley providing the sultry vocals and making a brilliant debut on electric guitar.

Christina Montoya jazzed up the atmosphere with a fiery, powerful, flirtatious poetry/dance performance, exuding joyful woman-energy.

At last the sun had all but disappeared when William Waterway took the stage, now shadowed under heavily leafed branches, ending the evening with haunting impressionistic tunes played on a simple Native American branch flute.

“The birds were singing – they gave me my direction,” he said afterwards.

Satiated with elegantly crafted poetry, delicious food for thought, the patrons slowly, reluctantly, headed home, driving down the hill beneath a still-light apricot tinged sky.

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Our new telephone poles

Standing so straight and tall.

What have you done

To incur the wrath of us all?

Erect as a guard of sentries

Along our one-lane roads,

Your naked brown wood

A story of nature told.

A mountainside forest,

Stout, heavy-limbed trees;

Tops bend ever so much,

The stiffest of breeze.

Strong men did come,

Boot and glove. Saw and truck.

They felled your majesties,

Your centuries of luck.

Taken from your woods,

Carted to our towns,

Your cross trees now bolted;

Not a smile or a frown.

Many lines strung with care,

Along your tops and sides.

The power as apparent —

The currents in the tides.

For us, you reach up.

Our computers, light and heat

An engineering marvel,

You deliver us a treat.

But, what, we turn away?

We say that you are ugly!

Too big, too tall for us

We say (a bit) smugly.

Why our scenic uproar?

Why all of our ill will?

We like our treetops.

Power is our poison pill.

I, for one, see your beauty,

Enjoy your neat looks.

You are not at fault —

Something out of a storybook.

Jonathan Burke works for the Oak Bluffs Library and has lived on the Island since 2001.

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If you can’t deny that things have changed

And life, as before, is rearranged

If you once were warm but now feel colder

Accept the truth; you’re getting older.

If thin skin itches and you need to scratch

If you worry that your clothes don’t match

If you tightly squint your failing eyes

If you assume the mirror lies

When it shows you otherwise;

If you drive your car but forget to where

Yet somehow, safely you got there;

If you find it hard to retrieve a word

And repeat old stories already heard;

If suddenly you just stop to stare

If you search for loved ones no longer here,

Wanting them to reappear ;

If at times you become moody,

Solitary and a bit broody;

If your clothing has become too long,

If you fret and stamp and act forlorn,

Admit you’ve shrunk, proceed with haste,

Pull up your pants above your waist,

If you splash in puddles happily,

And couldn’t care if anyone might see,

Your timeless joy and jubilee,

If you stress about your whitening hair,

If younger friends now call you “dear,”

If you don pajamas at half past four

Hoping no one knocks upon your door,

If you enjoy jumping into bed at night

To read your books by one bright light ,

If you slowly sip on bedtime tea

While watching old movies on TV,

The heat turned high at seventy,

If you get up many times to pee,

If you sleep and dream haphazardly,

If you are wide awake at half-past three,

If you watch moon shadows cast a glow,

If you enjoy the dark night show,

If you are grateful for your many years

If you embrace your joy and accept your tears,

If all these things have come to be —

Celebrate! My friend

You are just like me!

Doris Lubell, 82 years old, is a year-round Edgartown resident.

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I wanted to write about the world, but I had never traveled.

I wanted to write about sweat, but I had done nothing difficult.

I wanted to write about beauty, but I had no eye for it.

I wanted to write about music, but I was tone-deaf.

I wanted to write about sorrow, but I was in its throes.

I wanted to write about love, but I was alone.

In the end I wrote about death, it was a field I knew.

There I was cut down like a stalk by a machine,

there I fell into the earth and began again.

Jennifer Tseng has been the writer-in-residence at Hampshire College, a visiting writer at Colorado College, and she has taught Asian American Studies at UCLA. Her book “The Man With My Face” won the Asian American Writers’ Workshop’s National Poetry Manuscript Competition and a 2006 PEN American Center Beyond Margins Award. Jennifer works at the West Tisbury Library and will serve as poetry editor for Martha’s Vineyard Arts & Ideas.

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No birds ’cept pigeons that bring only litter;

No robins to dig worms and proudly twitter.

Only the pavement in bright dirty white,

Full of fast people from daybreak till night.

The street is narrow, but powerful still

With people and money to do as they will.

Those bulls and those bears in furious tilt

Pay no mind to spring as they trade to the hilt.

Alas, the seasons on that street do pass

Marked only by the sun on the skyscraper glass,

As the traders stand forever on their toes

And never, no never, stop to smell a rose.

George Balco, who lives in Mink Meadows, has been active in Tisbury government for many years, holding a number of elected and appointed positions.

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A daughter remembers her mother

Self portrait.

We called her “Sarge.”

My brothers and I knew her unflappable love for us,

as well as the part that was highly flappable.

Her jaw would set, her mouth would pucker

and rise up a half inch closer to her nose

and her voice….ho boy, that voice.

And words only sailors used. Hazel Kay Radant in the house!

Heels would click, children would salute and scurry, apologize and know full well that the love didn’t go away.

She used to pull me up onto her lap,

show me the “learn to draw ad” in the back of a magazine,

put a pencil in my hand and things got really quiet.

“Let’s draw pretty girls, honey,” she said each time.

I had a bedroom in the attic where I assumed

the pitched ceiling over my bed to have been built expressly for me. I could rest my chin on the windowsill between my chenille-covered twin beds. With a pillow under my knees, I knelt there like I was taking communion and watched the drive-in theater’s movies.

In the summer, I could even hear them.

That’s how I learned about the big world outside our housing plan in Columbus, Ohio.

She’d call me down into reality, to wash the dishes, watch my little brother.

I hated her cooking…food from cans and boxes, ‘50s style. “Set the table, punkin’ and get the box of mashed potatoes out for me and the squirt cheese.” We ate what was squirted in front of us… or so Mom thought.

All the quirks made life interesting and taught my brothers and me to be ready for anything. And thanks to Sarge, I can draw now. Today, I’m an artist and writer living on Martha’s Vineyard.

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The four poets will read their works at the Sixth Mass poetry festival this weekend.

Lambert's Cove Beach looking northeast towards Makonikey head.

Four Martha’s Vineyard poets will travel to Salem this weekend to participate in the sixth annual Massachusetts Poetry Festival. Justen Ahren, Steven Ewing, Jennifer Tseng, and Rachel Baird will read poems underpinned by the theme of the ocean in a presentation named “Surrounded By Water.”

The Island presentation is one of many events spread out over more than a dozen venues in the Salem area that will feature readings, workshops, panels, and performances that are expected to attract more than 1,500 poetry lovers.

Rachel Baird.

Rachel Baird. — Courtesy Rachel Baird

The festival is sponsored by Mass Poetry. The organization focuses on promoting poetry by creating new audiences, placing poets in schools, and facilitating connections between poets via their annual festival and an active blog on their website called Common Threads.The festival is open to the public. Poets wishing to actively participate must register and pay a modest entry fee.

Pulitzer Prize winning American poet Philip Levine and Scottish poet and playwright Carol Ann Duffy, poet laureate of Britain since 2009, are among the score of well-known and respected poets who will read at the festival in addition to dozens of poets participating in the various workshops focusing on specific topics.

Ms. Baird, who spends winters on the Vineyard and summers in Middlebury, Vermont, where she runs the Zonethree art gallery, organized the Vineyard group after she learned of the festival from a friend. “I know these poets and their work,” she told The Times. “I produced our panel of four based on the poets and poetry I thought would read well together and round out a good representation of the Island’s poetic voice.

Justen Ahren.

Justen Ahren. — Photo courtesy Justen Ahren

“We had to submit an application presenting our concept, explaining our focus and presentation to a festival committee. The application went through several rounds of fine tuning before it was accepted.”

The group will read at 1:30 pm, Saturday in the library of the Hawthorne Hotel, 18 Washington Square, Salem.

Weekend events include poetry workshops, discussions, drop-in galleries around town, and children’s events at the Peabody Essex Museum. For more information, go to masspoetry2014.pathable.com.

Surrounded by Water

Interiors

By M. R. Baird

The past, a solid lake of ice

Impenetrable,

Created order out of love and failure

Mixed with peptides, thunder but no sound

Translates rabbit terror into deep tracks

And standing frozen earth, a vacuum,

No air, all ether and memory left for gone.

How many windows ajar

And falling through to

Constellations

Behind the last view seen

On the other side,

Held as snapshot spark,

All moveable and fluid

Frame out more questions than answers?

Through that open door

An even smaller island

Now shrinking into the distance,

Through that fallen window

The unknown river waits;

I am going there.

Rachel Baird grew up in San Francisco where her childhood affiliation with many of the beat poets was influential in her writing and her art.  She will publish a book, “Uplands,” soon.

Thaw

By Justen Ahren

The ground is thawing. And now the sun

has reached an angle of amber

upon the bees. The field’s mud

is stirring. This afternoon the peepers

in the shallow pond in the woods, flooded

a hunger-making sound from their throats,

and I got down to the work of writing to you.

I got down and filled my hands

with the muddy words that sat, cold in the melt,

sat in the salt and cinders beside the path,

where the crocuses open their mouths skyward,

their yellow tongues of impatience,

their veined throats wondering at the pleated earth,

through which they’ve broken

too recent to understand their coming

and what they’ve brought:

words, those sweet fictions, solid enough  to reassemble

your footsteps, true enough

to serve as the bird calling to you, Love.

In my boots and jeans

With my gloves, and my shears in hand, the sun escalating,

I increase the claim my soul has staked, here

where the house throws down her shadow

upon the hours of my labor,

upon the stone wall and through the orchard —

a hundred ways this supplicant

has made appeal to the land.

The work is the prayer.

Justen Ahren is the West Tisbury poet laureate. He has published poems in numerous publications. A graduate of Emerson College’s MFA program, he is founder and director of Noepe Center for Literary Arts and the Martha’s Vineyard Writers Residency. He teaches poetry and writing workshops on Martha’s Vineyard and in Labro, Italy.

Poet Jennifer Tseng also works at the West Tisbury Library.

Poet Jennifer Tseng also works at the West Tisbury Library. — File Photo by Susan Safford

To the Sea

By Jennifer Tseng

His life a lash on the horizon.

His eyes, two raindrops fallen at last to the sea,

have joined the others, the lost visions, lost waves.

Of all the dead, there is something in the sea,

if one could sip each drop discretely one would taste

prodigies riding on Ferris wheels, prisoners painting

estuaries in green, generals kneeling at the salt-soaked

feet of peasants, women making ardent love to women…

Part of every drowned desire, its indestructible source,

appears in the form of a stranger willing to change us.

He had been striving for years, he died desiring,

vexed to the end by strangers without, within.

Jennifer Tseng lives in West Tisbury and works in the town library. Her book “The Man With My Face” won the Asian American Writers’ Workshop National Poetry Manuscript Competition and a 2006 PEN American Open Book Award. This poem is from her latest book, which was recently translated into Chinese, “Red Flower, White Flower,” winner of the 2012 Marick Press Poetry Prize.

Vanity

Steven Ewing.jpgBy Steve Ewing

I saw you anchored

in summer

just on the edge

outside the shoal

still shallow

off Shear Pen Pond

Oscar in waders

scratchin’ for hogs

I’ve seen your

stern

in winter

sputter

while you towed

for scallops

dredges draining

on the rail

Oscar’s back

hunched over the board

culling the last haul

wide

in Sou’west rain gear

The bay

it seemed

was made just for you

I followed

in my small

leaky skiff

towing drags

humble

in your

broad shadow

I watched

your limit stowed

as you left

the pond

On windy days

how you’d head north

into the swell

toward Cape Cod

then turn

and slide

down the following sea

for the harbor

It seemed

you steered

yourself

while Oscar washed

you down

I sold him paint

each spring

to coat your bottom

Kirby red

from New Bedford

You looked so proud

launched

fresh painted

your dog house hatch

top hat cocked

Later

I saw Oscar

in the hospital

before he died

We chatted

he seemed

fine

but then he drifted off

Steve Gentle

passed you on

rebuilt

and back afloat

with spars and sail

instead of drags

You looked so sharp

so new and light

It’s good to see you

got up in your summer rig

As if the wind

was made

to push you

right along

Edgartown, June, 2011

Steven Ewing, Edgartown poet laureate, is a 61-year-old self-employed dock builder who has lived his entire life on Martha’s Vineyard. Mr. Ewing is a member of the Scottish Society of Martha’s Vineyard and is the presiding poet of the annual Robbie Burns Supper.