The judge for the quarterly award for the Spring issue is Susan McLean, who retired from teaching English at Southwest Minnesota State University just in time to avoid endless rounds of Zoom classes as the pandemic descended. She is author of two poetry books, and a book of translations of the satirical epigrams of the Latin poet Martial. Her comments follow:
Daniel Galef’s witty and erudite sonnet “Alcibiades to a Mutilated Herm” can be understood at a basic level even by someone who is unfamiliar with many of its allusions, but the more the reader knows about ancient Greek history, the richer the reading experience will be. It helps to know that Alcibiades had to leave Athens because he was accused of mutilating herms (phallic statues of the god Hermes); that Socrates, his teacher, was concerned with determining what is “the good”; that Ajax was a Greek hero of The Iliad who leapt from beached ship to ship while defending them from the Trojans; that “Attic salt” is Athenian wit, often contrasted with the blunt and concise expressions of Sparta (Laconia); that a Spartan mother famously told her son to return from battle with his shield or on it; that there is a pun on the “capitals” that Alcibiades lived in and the style of the “capitals” of temple columns in those cities. It is a bravura performance, and it repays close attention.
Gail White’s wry insight into human nature and her impeccable skill with rhyme and meter are on display in all three of her poems, but “The Plain Woman Contemplates the Afterlife” is particularly intriguing for its combination of plain speaking with the irony that the speaker insists her plain appearance “doesn’t even look like me.” Her “Epitaph for a Meek Existence” encapsulates in its measured elegance the rewards of a life lived in balance.
In a time when our institutions seem to be in turmoil and upheaval, it might seem that lyric poetry is peripheral or irrelevant to the urgent issues many people are dealing with. But at this moment, beauty, joy, and love are more necessary to our hearts than ever. The deep order of Nature still holds beneath our feet and all around. Along this line of thought, the BBC published an article on the power of metaphors to “serve a functional purpose; they can explain complex concepts we may not be familiar with, help us to connect with each other, and can even shape our thought processes.” Well, lightbulb, BBC! The different areas of our brains are experiencing the world simultaneously, in their separate ways; metaphors and similes encourage that process.
For now, though, throw open the door and step outside! Summer is wearing her best dress as the Green Man takes her hand. Poems, like rustling leaves, are blowing in the breeze. . .