2020 Porad Award Winners
Julie Warther, Judge
First Place ($100)
long before language the S of the river
Carl Sandburg described poetry as “an art practiced with the terribly plastic material of human language.” As poets, we attempt to express what is beyond words using the only tools we have. We continue to try because we must. This poet seems to recognize our shortcomings and minor place in the universe by reminding us of the order of things. First there was the river in all its elegance, then our wordless response to it, and much later our attempts to attach words to the emotions it evoked. Time and again, I returned to this poem and it was indeed the effective use of this “plastic material” that brought me back. The way the repeated “L” sounds of “long” and “language” draw out and slow down the reading. The capital “S” is both visual and auditory. A subtle pictorial representation of the river is in the one-line format. Above all, I appreciate this poem as an example of jinen, or nonstriving. Well-rendered, with substance, this poem is reassurance that poetry exists, poetry IS, even before our rendering. And for that, I am grateful.
Second Place ($50)
A poem of nearly invisible yet strategically intentional choices. Seven simple words. Two distinct parts with a marked separation from the em dash. A change from left justification for the first line to a centered format for the last two, with “to be” set aside and set apart from the rest of the poem as one simply must be to achieve such a state. To be without doing, to realize that existence in itself is pure and devoid of any bias, is a state that requires practice and solitude. Practi-tioners of meditation know this. Many who look from the outside and have never tried assume it is easy (much like writing haiku itself). Ironic that the very next line after “to be” is “I walk.” We are simply drawn to action in spite of our best intentions. But for this poet, walking meditation brings him/her closer to that state of being. Not just walking but walking surrounded by leaves in the process of falling. A reminder of their transience and the poet’s own. Experiencing a process of letting go, a trusting of what comes next and a gentle acceptance of the journey beyond one’s own control. A poem to sit with.
Third Place ($25)
This poem kept bringing me back for another reading. Nothing is an interesting concept to ponder. Can nothing have a color? And why blue? Blue carries connotations of melancholy, but also of wisdom and serenity. This poem seems to represent a sky free of clouds and a blue striking in its vibrancy. Perhaps, for the poet, there is a vacillation between serenity and an internal brewing of melancholy that doesn’t yet have a name. As with our second-place winner and the need “to be,” whole books have been written on doing nothing and how to achieve such a state. This poem had me thinking of Covid-19 cancelling many of the activities that usually feed my monkey mind. It seems that doing nothing should be more attainable than ever right now and yet a quiet sadness occasionally creeps into this space in time. It turns out I’m not alone. The poem attempts no answer but offers a comfort in sharing this collective experience.
The lyrics “Just me and my shadow, all alone and feeling blue” come to mind. There is a nice contrast between “distancing” and “closer” in this poem. Keeping away from others means spending more time with ourselves, something we often spend an inordinate amount of time trying to avoid through a flurry of activities, tasks, and social engagements. With so many of those events cancelled during this year’s pandemic lockdown, we are more and more faced with looking at ourselves. Of course, self-reflection is healthy from time to time, but too much can turn to self-absorption.
This poem engages all my senses. I can feel the air movement, smell and taste the salt mist, hear the surf and the gentle breathing, and see the screen’s movement. This feels like a poem of perseverance. In-and-out breaths are sometimes all we have energy to maintain and even that can feel like a relentless pounding pressure. The breathing of the screen is an easily recognizable image, yet uniquely rendered here.
Strange. I have not seen a new globe in some time. Every globe in my memory, back to elementary school days, was already old with wear of the topography from so many hands tracing routes over its surface. So an “old globe” seems a familiar and comfortable image and not at all difficult to visualize its literal separation where the two molded halves had been sealed together. With the current polarization that has become the norm in the United States and the world, this metaphorical representation of coming apart at the seams is particularly apt.