Saturday, April 02, 2005

Pavement Saw Press Poetry Winners

As is customary (if 18 days of writing can develop customs) on Friday/weekend, highwayscribery drops political discussion for a full session of literature in some form or other (or both).

Today’s exercise is one in poetry review although the scribe is not a practiced critic so much as he is a fan.

And here, now, nothing too weighty, just a pair of poems from the recent winners of the annual contest conducted by Pavement Saw Press.

They had a contest in which the scribe entered his "Spit in a Flower Pot (If you must)," and didn’t win. As a return on his $20 entry fee, he got copies of both winners’ books, which he thinks is a pretty square deal and an improvement on the usual letter announcing the winners whom are, invariably, people you’ve never heard of.

If you come to highwayscribery for the political fare, or even if you "like it lit," but don’t know much about the little world of poetry, here’s how it works.

You organize your book of at least 50 poems and give it a title. You buy a magazine with a name like, let’s say, "Poetry," and it will normally list the numerous contests happening all over the place.

Then you send it in, with the $10 or $20 bucks it takes to join the cavalcade. Somebody with a name like Ellen Shackelwood Pierce, a prior winner of the contest, reads all the works and then picks the champ.

After a few rejections many a poet heads out to find "Ellen Shackelwood Pierce’s "Jigsaw Heart," and starts imitating her work, winning being the object in every nook and cranny of our national life.

Despite having edited a poetry review, "READ," moons ago, conducted literary happenings, and published nobly and of his own accord, the scribe has never won one of these damn contests and has pretty much had it with them.

Pavement Saw, by the way, is out of Columbus, Ohio. That’s all the scribe knows other than the fact they take their poetry pretty seriously.

Digressions, all. On to the winner of the contest, Daniel Zimmerman, and his collection, "Post-Avant."


My hue, my yen, my un-
fashionable burden

lament with me, repair
my history

as if one bore one
other than a grave

other than a grave
demeanor, as near

as any of such ilk sally
forth upon legend

under which bend
all comers to their will

who might pretend
all men are equal.

According to the "Random House College Dictionary," Aubade is a word of French origin and refers to a musical "piece sung or played outdoors at dawn, usually as a compliment to someone."


"my hue, my yen" readily suggest an intimacy
"my un-
fashionable burden" introduces tension into the relationship, and the line separating un-fashionable is a strong mark, and gives profile to the glitch in this obsession.

"Lament with me, repair
my history," gives the relationship even greater depth with its request for the extraordinary... "repair my history" (!)

"as if one bore one
other than a grave" has rat-a-tat rhythm with that "one bore one," and though no one is "boring" anyone, the other essence/meaning is still present, casts its dark residual. Who, in the end, does not let us down?

"other than a grave
demeanor, as near"

coming off "other than a grave," "other than a grave demeanor" both mimics and links with a minimum of work, a repetition of words with a cleaving element of distinction employed at the end.

"as near", to what we don’t know, and the phrase itself serves as rail-switcher that changes the thread’s direction, amplifies it, and really, divorces the poem from its suggested course. "as near" pushes us on to "as any of such ilk sally," which is sweet. Savor for a second, "such ilk sally" and you get ghost of "silk" without actually mentioning it.

the "ilk" of the class of "sallyers," as it where, are the ambitious, those moving "forth into legend."

There’s the awkward transition that poetry permits, adores really. We’re talking about someone’s "un-fashionable burden" and wind up with legend seekers. Legend seekers who will occupy a legend "under which to bend
all comers to their will"

"legend" and "bend" (and the upcoming "pretend") play with one another as we (you, the scribe, Zimmerman) move from the particulars of intimacy between souls, to the general and universal, these legend seekers, who are dangerous, "who might pretend all men are equal."

What say you? Disappointment in love and history? Revery of a romance easily distracted by preoccupations with destiny?

If an Aubade is complimentary, than is this the anti-Aubade?

The second poem comes from "Pants," written by Shelley Stenhouse, winner in the chapbook category.

Her poems are more straightforward than Mr. Zimmerman who is oblique, referential to earlier and classical poetic constructions, and choosing more tools in the box than Ms. Stenhouse, who hails from the prose-typeset-as-poetry set.

Which sounds cruel, but isn't intended as such for the scribe likes that kind of stuff.

"Pants" as a title does not tell us much about the book. The poems are not individual examples of a new form or derivation referred to as "pants," nor are the poems exclusively about men.

But on to our choice:


Your hand is my first house,
the one I go back to. I imagine it
now, holding other bodies
full of rightness and tautness,
not like mine – all mush
and dreams and failure.
It’s fall and the leaves need
to die and burn. I have stayed
here so long in this room
has become a breathing person.
I hear it talk to me at night, late,
it whispers –
It’s okay. I’m here,
right here under you,
around you, I’ll take you home

For the scribe’s money, Ms. Stenhouse doesn’t really have much depth and had he known there was a chapbook contest too, he would have entered and won for sure.


Q. How do you upset the poet in the room?
A. Be another poet.

The title of "Leaves," is too easily poetry and Ms. Stenhouse bores us with her dependency on the first person narrative voice in almost every piece.

If the poetry is not so evident in its particulars, the scribe would suggest it’s more so in its conceptualization. The idea of someone’s hand "being my first house" is nice enough and better if you don’t have to slog through the other girly confessionals in "Pants."

And the switch from the hand being a house, to the house being a loving hand is simple and works; synthesizing lover and room until they are indistinguishable. Which is good.

Best line, "holding other bodies full of rightness and tautness,".
Worst line, the next one, "not like mine – all mush and dreams and failure."

"Pants" has much less to say, than "Post-Avant" even if it’s easier to read, which where poetry is concerned, may not be a good thing.

In any case, congratulations to both poets on their recognition and achievements.

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