I would rather be read than seen, but delivering my poem on that stage to an audience serious about art and beauty was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life. I have watched my favorite poets online present from their book at readings the way I’ve appreciated figure-skating on the Olympics channel. Very cool, and fat chance that’ll ever be me. But there I stood – while part of a collection – sharing my words out of a book. I was just a blade of grass, but had left the desert.
Beautiful cover, isn’t it? The SDPA is out on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and in all the San Diego public and university libraries in California. The 13th edition contains poetry from emerging and established artists in the region along with the international poetry contest winners. Apparently, the honorees from the competition comprised 1/9 of the submissions. We had to have made the final lists of two judges. To be able to read my work among distinguished guests including the Poet Laureate of San Diego, and receive the feedback I did were no small affirmations. I took the gift as a hard-won treat in wrapping up a school year that had revolved around my son.
People back home were so happy for me. It felt like I was finally getting somewhere – not I the mother or educator, but the writer who no longer remembered what she looked like apart from the mirror. And then life spun its crazy turns.
I refrain from the details, partly to keep the bleeding in check. But long sad story short, I found myself misrepresented sorely in the eyes of someone in authority at the hands of someone I had liked and trusted. The roughest of the ride behind me, I stand, shaken but more secure. I was able to move away from the anxious indignation, so bound up in the ego, to the stuff of real consequence, trust in God’s redemptive plans. I am a note in His symphony – a reminder both humbling and exalting. There is much more to my life than…me, and what people think.
The self-help gurus tell me I can be anything, do anything, and success is to be found in strength. In the quietest, deepest places, I know real growth comes by loss. If I am to offer up my God anything, I need to have something to give up. What can I surrender when the sun smiles upon me, when readers throw bouquets of praise, when my child is winning awards? Without struggle, there is no conquering.
Congratulations: Your poem, Age, has earned Honorable Mention
in the 2017 Steve Kowit International Poetry Contest.
Your poem will be published in the next edition of the San Diego
Poetry Annual, due out on March 1, 2018. A PDF of the annual
will be available for free reading and downloading in February 2018
on our website: http://www.sandiegopoetryannual.com.
You are invited to attend the awards ceremony to read your poem
at the Neil Morgan Auditorium on Saturday, April 21, 2018. If
you can attend, you’ll be paid a small honorarium ($50). If you
cannot attend, a certificate of achievement will be mailed to you.
Again, congratulations. Your support for the legacy of Steve Kowit
helps us donate of copies of the SDPA to every public and university
library system in our region, making the annual part of their
Most of all, thank you for allowing us to publish your work.
William Harry Harding
for The Judges
San Diego Entertainment & Arts Guild
Poets are strange –
Why can’t they just call the spade
a spade? And what’s a rock but
rock: sandstone, shale from the tiredness
of weather? Coal and limestone, plant
and animal dross
— but nature wastes nothing.
Why do poets look for metaphors under
every rock, the walls that hold the creek, earth
that crumbled, forged resolute, and grew above
my grandmother’s rib, beat hard when she was
widowed with six children on the road
fleeing the Communists
fleeing the Communists
fleeing the Communists
and soldiers who ran out to drag their own
men screaming without their arm
back to the trenches in
too many battles and
and bald children in hospital beds who still
know how to laugh.
Why can’t poets be simple? They see
a crushing burial in heat and time:
marble, quartz, gneiss
— living, burnished beauty.
Poets. They think they can say it
stargazers in furious
bloom – vanilla air –
are the only flowers
that trust me, tell me
i am not hopeless;
the juice in their veins, the way
they gulp the sun and meet my face,
their beauty and their business
say i don’t need a green thumb
and the riotous garden.
all one needs is a singular love.
Birdless sky swells grey blue against
trees that stand like brushes
stiff in the cold
The penultimate breath
of a new earth
The dark disappears in a steadfast
philanthropy of color: red, orange, rose
blush up from the land over lakes and hills
and roof slats to tell the inhabitants
Night has not prevailed.
Earth e x h a l e s
as the Sun spills her promise.
we felt so grown up
when we were kids
and now wonder that
we are so old when
we're not yet grown
we started losing
our parents to
time and frailty.
in the cycle of life
things go upside
d o w n
into a world
above the logic of sorrow
and find you are so
small, but remember:
Mom's high ceiling,
your sure ground.
see the sky and trees
in your pool of tears
they're the other side
of life. how beautiful
things are when they drown
how clear it is underwater.
you long to run
to the garden
beyond that door
but you don't fit
life would feel deformed
under the weight of loss
if it weren't for the faith
that was bigger than the
life that shut down
she archived her fears and
hopes in her kids, did
anyone hear the story
in between, did
your heirloom assurance
the midnight of your dreams
is really a new day.
for HJ &
who would like it
By the second week I learned that Texans sweat as much
as the French, and swear even more, that you couldn’t fight one
twin without taking on the other. But the librarian would slip me
the choicest donated fiction, and I played baseball every day in the
vacant lot until sundown called the players home to black and white
body counts and cigarette commercials on the three channels we got.
Sometimes I lay in bed under the half-light of the whirring fan
blades, and dreamt of heroes and ornithopters, zebras and the scent
of chocolate chip cookies in the oven. Other nights I wondered
how words could rest so calmly on one page yet explode off the next,
or why a man would climb a tower in Austin to kill fourteen people.
Wasn’t living a matter of simple subtraction?
One by one the days parted and I walked through the dwindling
heat, eyes squinting, questions in hand, emerging fifty years later
having suffered the mathematics of love and success, honor and
truth, still asking why and how, where it’d gone, shoulders slumped
under the heft of those beautiful, terrible summers stacked high
like so many life-gatherings of unread books awaiting a bonfire.
Robert Okaji, O at the Edges