A retired anthropology professor turned landscaper, the quixotic George Mills (1919-2001) was a well-loved figure in the Vineyard poetry community. Until his death George and his wife Florrie shared a small home in Oak Bluffs where they hosted frequent gatherings of poets, musicians, activists, and other thinkers.
Supporters of the Save the Gay Head Lighthouse Project gathered at the West Tisbury Grange Hall last Wednesday, August 27, to listen as more than a dozen poets read works inspired by the Gay Head Lighthouse, which is endangered by erosion.
Lighthouse Keeper Richard Skidmore acted as Master of Ceremonies, introducing the poets, who each read a poem they had written about the Lighthouse. Those who participated were Steve Ewing, Chris Legge, Paula Lyons, Arnie Reisman, Fan Ogilvie, Susan Puciul, Cynthia Riggs, Brooks Robards, Annette Sandrock, William Waterway, Richard Weiss, and Lynn Whiting.
Legacy of Light: Poems for the Gay Head Lighthouse, the recently published volume of Lighthouse poems edited by Alexander Weinstein, Keith Leonard, and Fan Ogilvie, is available at Midnight Farm in Vineyard Haven and at the Gay Head Gallery. For more information, visit gayheadlight.org.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.