The winner of the quarterly award for the spring issue is John Newson, of Wiltshire, UK, judged by poet John Perrault, who donned his robe and gavel for the occasion. A practicing attorney and Portsmouth’s Poet Laureate, he is author of Jefferson’s Dream, The Ballad of Louis Wagner and Other New England Stories in Verse, and Here Comes the Old Man Now. He describes himself with New England succinctness as “Still cranky. Still hopeful.”
John’s comments are below:
Best Poem: “From My Window—van Gogh vs. Mucha vs. Hopper”
A way of seeing, Karl Shapiro said, a poem is. So it is with this fine lyric by John Newson. Composed in terza rima—a form come to us courtesy of Dante Alighieri—it opens our eyes to how it is with a young man’s heart, even today, when enclosed by the walls of commerce it yet hearkens to Eros calling from the budding world of spring. And it does so in a subtle music, with allusions to works by van Gogh (Corridor in the Asylum), Mucha (Spring—from the Four Seasons), and Hopper (Office in a Small City.) These three otherwise unrelated paintings are juxtaposed to perfectly point to the deep loneliness, imaginative power, and inexplicable inertia of the speaker who stares but does not dare—not yet anyway—to leap. Bravo.
Honorable mention must go to Virginia Artrip Snyder’s “The Stroke”—a stunning narration of what it was like. In a tight alignment of ten four beat lines, the first four of which are basically trochaic (explaining the blinding jolt) and the last six iambic (describing the gradual re-emergence of cognition). The last line is to my inner eye a gem. Emily Dickinson would have loved it.
A poem is what in today’s chaos of human turbulence? A vehicle to hold center and focus on universal truths? Like the bards of centuries ago, is it a chronicle to memorialize the pivotal moments of the time? To point out injustice that is being overlooked? A view past the frippery and frumpery, the banal and superficial—a cup of tea with a loved one, a moment at a deathbed, the march of desperation where humanity is stripped of the barest necessities, the despoiling of communities by greed…may be a way of seeing. Perhaps if you find some darkness in these pages, it is because there is darkness without.
In gratitude for the ability to bring traditional and lyrical poems forward in the world, we are ever and always thankful to The Lyric Foundation, set up by Virginia Kent Cummins, and maintained by her family since 1948.
The Lyric is multigenerational, publishing young poets who are building lives and families as well as nonagenerians who bring their wisdom of many decades: Selma Calnan, Dodie Messer Meeks, Robert K. Johnston, and Harriet Guthrie among them. To them we say, “Rock on,” and keep pointing the way for us.
We received the sad news that one of the voices from The Lyric’s pages had gone silent. Neil Ulman, who won the New England Prize for 2016, died on February 27, 2016. He leaves a trace of his presence behind in his words; we close with one of his poems in his memory.
A boundless hall of mirrors is the past
Where every image changes as we peer
Though each reflection to the very last,
Ignores the alterations year by year.
As rearview scenes contract, outlines grow dim,
And your perception wanders off from mine,
As facts which once were fixed begin to swim,
Turn tail and transform themselves with time,
We each can choose our version to relate,
Assert that light is bent through space in curves,
Find absolution when our words create
New meaning for the phrase, “If mem’ry serves…”
And yet, like obverse portraits on a coin,
Our bifurcated sense of us stays joined.