Zeek is proud to have again cosponsored the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards, and to be publishing the winners of this year’s contest today. Here is what this year’s judges, Dan Bellm and Anna Elena Torres, had to say about the winning poems:
We chose Lauren’s thoughtful and ambitious poem, “Variation (Let’s Pretend),” not only for its memorable lines, but for the strikingly unconventional way in which it goes after its subject—the subject being a relationship based on silence about the past, and the past being a lost Jewish home in Iraq that is only constructed now in the poet’s imagination. We agree to pretend that the exiled ancestor whom the poet addresses is speaking—that in the words of the poem, “all the colors and empires/of Baghdad tumble from your mouth,” and later, that “because I need it, you tell it.”
As judges for this year’s awards, we admired the character sketches that this poem accomplished with such economy of words, and subtleties like the quick suggestion that back in that lost city, that “city of suggestions,” there was a difference between “people who were neighbors” and true “neighbors.” This is a fine poem of revelation by way of hard-won “suggestion,” and in seeking to name the unnamed, colors do tumble from its mouth.
We were pleased to select Yosefa’s poem “Fantasy for the Shal Women.” A poet of great imagination, Yosefa’s work is also deeply concerned with political realities. We appreciated the ambitious scope of the poem and its engagement with the ‘edges’ of modern Jewish experience. With “Fantasy,” Yosefa creates a new order of imagery, juxtaposing references to classical Jewish texts alongside modern technology. Yosefa’s poem “Fantasy” interrogates both the desires and identity of the speaker and her subject, exploring the intersections of empathy and fantasy.
Dan Bellm and Anna Elena Torres
Variation (Let’s Pretend)
by Lauren Camp
Let’s pretend you tell me what happened.
How you lived in the city two streets from the river.
Let’s suppose you begin speaking and you speak
until all the colors and empires
of Baghdad tumble from your mouth.
Your words take me to Karkh and back to Rasafa,
to Abbasid Palace and Kadhehemiah, the center of business.
Your words complete the ruined brick of Khan Murjan
and the eggshell designs of Mustansiriya Madrasah.
And now I can see the people who were neighbors.
You run your fat fingers through my dark hair
as if in the deep muscle of a temporary sleep.
I will be quiet for centuries.
And as night is falling
you tell me how Farhud sauntered past
in its dark coat and glasses, and you didn’t see it.
Let’s agree that I know something was wrong,
that I’ve figured that much out, that I’ve read those articles
you keep sending about the coups against Jews, the invasions.
Your gaze in the background is hazy.
You name a street and a corner. Who took you to school.
Tell me the cycle of daybreak, the month of isolation,
the year you were six.
You pull out old photos with arches. You are back
in the city of suggestions under the cardamom trees.
Give me the terrible excitement,
your warm salty truth, the glass Kiddush cup, the testimony
that Grandpa hid from the children,
the spayed useless sky, the doorpost, the wardrobe.
Because I need it, you tell it—the habits, the scarring,
the hot golden rain, the point of leaving your home.
You won’t make me keep waiting.
Let’s agree that you’ll tell me the details:
you have to remember every flake of the air
and the furrows of danger.
from Fantasy for the Shal Women
by Yosefa Raz
Author’s note: Below you will find an excerpt from a longer poem-in-progress about the so-called “shal women.” They have also been called “Taliban Women” in the secular Israeli press. In some American blogs, the recent practice of Jewish women veiling in Jerusalem, Bet-Shemesh and New York has been described as hyper-modesty. The poem began as a commissioned piece for a night on “Sherwood Forest” at Small Press Traffic in the Spring of 2012. The images of veiled women were broadcast in the background, while text was created by interweaving quotes from the women speaking about their practice, verses from psalms, and the language of medieval armor. The imaginary space and freedom I want to give to these women is undercut by the difficult and oppressive conditions of their lives.
The women are the best divers
they stay underwater for a long time
led by her daughter
can see in intense darkness
in the street she is blind
maelstroms of foam
brought to the surface
“they spit on me, they kicked me”
her blurred face
brush her hair
underneath many sunken ships
their slippers struck and wounded
cannot nurse her son for the
course of the creature
the speed of the tide
might as well lay down the crown
Her saber turned suddenly red
Crown to shoulder
Queen to crown
Drove it straight through —
Where is the glory of a king’s daughter?
her voice for your brothers
her vows for this saber
breasts and bones:
I will make you a bronze wall
I will make you a sesame milk drink of purity
the choirmaster saying
I will teach you your true voice
and her refusing.
If you want to clean the nipples
you reach in
you push the grease all the way up
and the old grease comes out
The metal skin being covered in nipples
how heavily, now, it moves forward
The gold brocade, the soft head of it
damascened, like stiff silk
or if a woman: no crown
a brown-black checkered pattern
cowter, cover, comb
Such a thing as “broken colors”
Nothing direct as straight blue
A pipe under the head piece
as if she were growing new metallic bones
Santa Fe-based poet Lauren Camp is the author of the poetry collection This Business of Wisdom (West End Press) and the CD I Am and You Are, a soundscape with poetic vignettes. Her poems are forthcoming in J Journal, World Literature Today, and you are here. In 2011, she guest edited a special section on the poetry of Iraq for Malpaís Review. Also an accomplished visual artist, Lauren blogs about poetry at a site called Which Silk Shirt, and runs Notes To Cecil, a new media installation of poetry and photographs on Tumblr. On Sundays, she hosts “Audio Saucepan,” a global music and poetry program on Santa Fe Public Radio.
Yosefa Raz lives in Oakland and sometimes in Tel Aviv. Her poetry, prose and translations have been published in ZYZZYVA, Glimmer Train, Tikkun, Lilith, Zeek and Try! Magazine. Her first book, In Exchange for a Homeland, was published by Swan Scythe Press in 2004. Hercurrent poetry manuscript, The Red Dress Experiment, won the Eisner Prize at UC Berkeley last spring. Currently a PhD student in the Jewish Studies Program, she is writing her dissertation on Hebrew prophecy and its reception in Modern Hebrew poetry. She has most recently read at Small Press Traffic, Hungryman Gallery and Occupy Oakland.
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