Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, Finalist: Irène Mathieu

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Irène Mathieu is a pediatrician and writer based in Philadelphia. She is the 2016 winner of the Bob Kaufman Poetry Prize and the author two poetry collections, the galaxy of origins (dancing girl press, 2014) and orogeny (Trembling Pillow Press, forthcoming). She has been a Pushcart Prize nominee, a Callaloo fellow, and a Fulbright scholar. Her poetry, prose, and photography also can be found in The Caribbean Writer, Muzzle Magazine, Callaloo Journal, Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere.

Irène Mathieu is also more than her bio, and wrote this post’s stunning, stunning poem, one of ten finalists for the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, chosen by myself out of over 500 poems submitted. The entry fees to the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award go toward a Live Your Dream Award, issued by Soroptimist International of Rittenhouse Square to a single mother who has experienced hardships and wants to go back to school.

theory of multiple theories

 

I’ve written multiple theories about love.

 

I’ve watched a robin hop desperately around its mate splayed like a broken fan.

I’ve seen cancer swell under a baby girl’s jaw, and I’ve seen her parents.

I’ve refused goodbyes and have swallowed whole sentences that snagged in my gut, rotted, soaked into my belly until it burned.

 

misunderstood or perfectly understood I never could say for sure, but I’ve been called a rare bird by a boy and

I’ve seen myself in dreams as a Quetzalcoatl crashing to earth and wondered,

do I have feathers or do I breathe fire?

 

in the mirror I am supreme witch-goddess of the in-between world where each of us

places the fetal dream of ourselves, a sea of curled and floating ideas

filled with un-words.

in the eyes of the sky I am a drop of sweat.

in the mirror of the past I am a wandering frog, uncommitted to the river or the bank.

years from now I will learn silence.

 

I’ve drowned stars in a glass of rum

shoved sand under the nail of my thumb

sucked a cigar until it knotted my

stomach into rubber.

it’s what we place between ourselves and everything else that burrows in, bruises.

 

in the eyes of the earth I am a jar on a pottery wheel, spinning glistening clay guesswork of supreme hands.

I smell like underground.

years from now I will be filled with water.

______________________

When I read the opening of this poem, I was instantly engaged. When I read the close, I had to go back to the start. I was so impressed by the pottery imagery, then the mortality, and how the theme of death pervades the poem from start to finish. Because of course, that’s love’s counterpart–loss. Present too in the poem is this theme of struggling to communicate, to truly express one’s self in relation to others and the world. In this deeply personal poem, Irène expresses so much that is universal, one of the marks of an accomplished poem in my eyes.

Congrats to her for her finalist status. To read more of Irène’s work, order her book  the galaxy of origins!

And if you’re wondering what woman she admires, Irène had this to say: “I really admire Nawal El Saadawi, an 84-year-old Egyptian psychiatrist, writer, feminist, and activist. She has never shied away from confronting injustice with powerful words, a quality I aspire to emulate as a physician-writer myself.

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I’ve Stopped Updating My Sidebar

Here are some places where new work of mine appears:

Tinderbox Poetry Journal: “After Staring at a Kandinsky

Redivider: “You Glad I Wrote this Poem?” (available in print only)

Tahoma Literary Review: “Although I Have Made My Father into a Bird

Here is a video of me reading my Editor’s Choice poem “Considering Need” at Philadelphia Stories’ Sandy Crimmins Poetry Prize award reception.

Here is a video of me reading an unpublished poem called “Fireworks” in response to the Orlando Massacre.

I neglected to announce the generous grant I got from the Barbara J. Deming Foundation. Please attribute this to my infrequent blog posting, and not a lack of excitement! They are doing the work of feminist angels. I ran through the halls at work screaming when I got the news. I was even more distracting to my coworkers than normal that day.

I have work forthcoming in:

Plath Profiles: “Self-Portrait as Hydrangea”

Women Arts Quarterly: “Everything is Breaking”

Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, Finalist: Faith S. Holsaert

Faith SHFaith S. Holsaert is one of the eight finalists for the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award. Her entry fee, and that of the over 140 other folks who submitted over 500 poems total, went toward funding a Live Your Dream Award, a grant given by Soroptimist International of Rittenhouse Square, PA to a single mother who has experienced hardships and wants to pursue her education.

When I asked Faith about a woman who inspired her, she gave an answer that touched me greatly.

“A woman I admire is my adult daughter who is ‘near homeless’ in San Francisco. She has made a full life for herself despite the inner and outer pain which she confronts daily.”  

Many past winners of the Live Your Dream Award from Soroptimist chapters around the world have battled homelessness. It is an issue close to Soroptimists’ hearts.

Faith submitted a poem that has not yet appeared in print or online, and as a result I cannot share here. But please rest assured it is amazing. The poem is called “Diaspora;” allow me to wax poetic about it for a bit, akin to when someone describes a movie you haven’t yet seen, but will.

“Diaspora” was a singular poem among the over 500 poems I read in the span of a few weeks. It opened from a place of negation, describing what wasn’t to the narrator so masterfully I was immediately engaged. The poem is expansive as the journey the characters take. It mixes high and low vernacular. When it is published, I will link to it, and urge you to follow the berries within the poem.

Now that I’ve indulged in spoilers (at least it wasn’t Game of Thrones), I want to turn to a poem I can share with you: “The Ponies.”

The Ponies” reminds me of something I wrote to Faith in an email about why her poem “Diaspora” was chosen…that she made the process of writing a poem seem so simplistic it was a bit like watching an ice skater. The ice skater makes a triple axle look effortless, and when I try and get my feet on the ice, my rear has immediately joined them. “The Ponies” seems simple, but the first lines alone,

“The ponies show up for the picket line
on the snakey company road,”

are masterful in their sound (those punctuating Ps!), the narrative evolution through its linebreak, the evocative “snakey,” the absent pony handlers and the mystery it creates!

I’d take you through to the close, raving at every syllable, but there is such pleasure in simply reading and seeing Faith’s poem here, not stopping to analyze it but just enjoy it for the pure pleasure of poetry.

I encourage you to read “The Ponies” and revel in her imagery. She is a master. And one I’ll keep you updated on!

Faith S. Holsaert has published fiction in journals since the 1980s and has begun to also publish poetry. She co-edited Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC (University of Illinois). She received her mfa from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers. After many years in West Virginia, she lives in Durham, NC with her partner Vicki Smith, with whom she shares ten grandchildren.

Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, Runner-up: Christopher Citro

Christopher Citro is runner-up of the first Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, whose entry fees benefitted the Live Your Dream Award, which is given to a single mother who has experienced hardships and wants to go back to school. His poem selected for this honor, “Our Beautiful Life When it’s Filled with Shrieks,”originally appeared in Rattle, Issue 50.

I’m going to pause there a minute and give you time to read his poem.

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Isn’t it just amazing? I read it to my boyfriend at 2 AM, waking him up to hear my croaky, judging over 500 poems so therefore sleep-deprived voice try and convey the magic I felt when reading it on the page. My boyfriend became a convert to the Citro Church of poetry too, even at that late hour.

Judge J.C. Todd shared these words with me about Christopher’s poem:

“Alive with vernacular rhythms and wit, ‘Our Beautiful Life When It’s Filled With Shrieks‘ meanders through complications of a global eat-and- be-eaten marketplace and fables of its past. What’s the still point on which it balances through slippery turns of thought? A notion of love that nourishes two, instead of sacrificing an I for you.”

I asked Christopher about a woman he admired, and he responded with,

“I admire the poet Emily Dickinson. In one of her letters she wrote: ‘I think the bluebirds do their work exactly like me.’ And in another: ‘Mines in the same Ground meet by tunneling.’ In looking up that last quotation, I discovered I’d always misremembered it as, ‘Minds in the same ground meet by tunneling.’ She probably wrote that, too.”

Christopher won a year’s subscription to Bone Bouquet,  which I highly recommend all subscribe to!

Christopher Citro 3.JPGChristopher Citro is the author of The Maintenance of the Shimmy-Shammy (Steel Toe Books, 2015). He won the 2015 Poetry Competition at Columbia Journal, and his recent and upcoming publications include poetry in Prairie Schooner, Ploughshares, Best New Poets 2014, Sycamore Review, The Journal, Sixth Finch, Columbia Poetry Review, Rattle, Mid-American Review, and Poetry Northwest, and creative nonfiction in Boulevard and Colorado Review. He received his MFA from Indiana University and lives in Syracuse, NY.

The Brittany Noakes Poetry Award-Winners and Finalists

In announcing the Winner, Runner-up, and Finalists for the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, proceeds benefiting the Live Your Dream Award granted by Soroptimist International of Rittenhouse Square, I want to stress what high quality work we received among the over 500 poems reviewed. As the person who narrowed it down to ten, along with the help of Allison Sylvester, I believed strongly each of the finalists had a chance at winning. Each of these ten poems were fantastic and utterly beautiful, so good they redeemed the use of platitudes in efforts to describe them.

Every one of you who shared, donated, and entered made this award of $1,000+ we raised for a woman in need to pursue her educational dreams possible. I truly think we all won a little something in seeing how everyone could come together in the name of making an unknown woman’s life better.

J.C. Todd was given a terrifically difficult task of choosing the winner, whose poem would be made into a broadside by artist and poet MaryAnn L. Miller, and runner up, who would receive a one year subscription to fabulous Bone Bouquet Journal.

Congratulations to our finalists and their stellar poems.

Finalists:
Julia Blumenreich: Watchic Pond, Maine
Mary Buchinger: “Redeem/the unread vision in the higher dream”
Emily ColeAllegheny County, 1888: Ava Remembers Her Canaries
Faith Holsaert: Diaspora

Susanna Kittredge: Summer Camp
Irene Mathieu: Theory of Multiple Theories
Shawna Kay Rodenberg: Little Debbie Repeats: Open Your Eyes…
Barrett Warner: All the Latest Talk in Paradise Concerning Butterflies

And our runner-up, may he find inspiration among Bone Bouquet Journal‘s pages!

Christopher Citro: Our Beautiful Life When It’s Filled With Shrieks

And a standing ovation to our winner:

Lisa Grunberger: Genesis: Beginning the In

Over the next week or so, I’ll be posting more about these ten fabulous people and their poems, in random order. I hope you enjoy learning more about why their work was chosen and who inspires them to write. I certainly did!