“Every line we can draw in the sand, has expression; and there is no body without its spirit of genius.”
-Emerson, “The Poet.”
April, National Poetry month. At the Denver Woman’s Press Club recently, we were poetry judges at the annual Unknown Writers contest. We poets – Diana Sher, Hilary DePolo, Laurel Becker, Joy Stross, Anita Jepsen- Gilbert, Marilyn Raff, Sabine Kortals and I – were what Emerson describes in his seventeen page essay on the subject, The Poet, ‘umpires of good taste.’ As we met and deliberated over the poems, one poem, titled “How do you?” by the poet, Letica Tanguma caught my heart.
This line in her poem in particular:
“How do you invite someone in
when you do not have a home?
Ms.Tanguma did not win a prize but the line is stunning in its relevance to what we were gathered to do. How does one judge poetry when oftentimes, we write (and speak) as Emerson puts it from the safe distance of our own experiences or from fancy or a shallow knowledge of the doctrine of beauty and form? What do we do when an unknown poet crosses our path with a wildly different voice, an imagination, experience or vision that surpasses or assaults our own? How do we respond when an unknown writer invites us into his world or home built with the only tools at hand –words?
In the company of other poets, I learn to live and to love as a poet. How to take the broken bread that is being passed around the table and drink from the cup. From my early days of arrival in Evergreen, I am welcomed and embraced by poets. Murray Moulding, Rita Kiefer, Carolyn Campbell, Joe Hutchinson, Padma Jared Thornlyle and his daughter Circe, Jim Hicks, Jari Thymian, Ida Fasel (102 years old), Dr. Kathryn Winograd,Veronica Patterson, Lynda La Rocca, Denver poet laureate Chris Ransick, Tim Hernendez and other poets keep me company as I reenter America, imagining in her that home, that place of rest, rebirth and resurrection. Poetry, like life, is not without rancor.
My fidelity to my office as a poet lies in telling the truth. I reentered America as President Clinton’s term was ending, President Bush was running for office, twelve years later, now in the midst of the Obama administration, my poetic vision has changed. I see the same America, different. I see the same Malaysia, different. This is what poets, known and unknown do. We experience life fully, we study to live and express ourselves amidst conflicting realities in a world in which we are all pilgrims.
Ms. Tanguma’s one line that caught my attention is an entire poem. Emerson wrote that the sign and credentials of a poet are, that he announces that which no man has foretold. He also said that the experiences of each new age, requires a new confession and that the world is always waiting for the poet.
The unknown poets we were privileged to read as judges, invited us into their paper houses and for a brief moment shared with us their hearts and souls. The winning poets were:
First Place: Linda Milleman for “The Sunset”
Second Place: Roxanne Barker for “Picasso, Trying to Impress Chicks”
Third Place: Mathew Cannizzaro for “Color Matters”
Honorable Mentions: Lin Fife for “Initiation”
Spencer Spalding for “The Hero”
Susan Levasseur “Miswant”
Poetry is a tool, an agent for social and political change. Poetry creates community, gathering people in to sit as the ancients did to share in wisdom and joy and commiserate in grief and loss. The poets who won no prizes this year still wrote winning poems. Their souls poured out in words, touched our hearts for it takes courage to risk knowing the poet and the mystic in ourselves. I close with a short poem by the Nepalese poet, Yuyutsu Sharma who recently read at the Evergreen Hearthfire bookstore:
“The kisses you refused were the best
Like the poems on the lake I did not write”
– Anushka Anastasia Solomon, B.A, Colorado poet and author of three poetry chapbooks. (www.atthewindow.us) continues to adhere to the creed of the poet.