Once again, The Nation announces the winners of Discovery/The Nation, the Joan Leiman Jacobson Poetry Prize. Now in its twenty-sixth year, the annual contest celebrates poets whose work has not been published previously in book form. The new winners are: Erin Grace Brooks, Anthony Deaton, Andrew Feld and Sue Kwock Kim. This year’s judges are Mark Doty, Marie Howe and Susan Mitchell. Distinguished former winners of the competition, in which manuscripts are screened and judged anonymously, include Susan Mitchell, Katha Pollitt, Mary Jo Salter, Sherod Santos, Arthur Smith and David St. John. This year’s winners will read their poems at Discovery/The Nation ’00 at 8:15 pm on Monday, April 17, at The Unterberg Poetry Center, 92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue in New York City.
–Grace Schulman, poetry editor
Not quite putting on what little power or knowledge
pigeons lay claim to, she nonetheless bids them come.
Launched off cornices,
cathedral arches, they glide
through the gelid air in loose spirals, filling the square.
Their wings beat a thin flat thunder.
She’s drifted in from the soot-marbled
housing blocks piled across the Vistula,
making her tram-line pilgrimage among the other pensioners
who haunt the Old Town’s benches.
Strewn about her feet are crumbled bits of bread crust
and each cupped palm she extends offers more.
The birds pullulate around her ankles,
roost on her shoulders. Aloof from the others,
one fatted pigeon mounts the faded
purple beret she wears against the late October freeze.
This is when I steal the photo.
All day I’ve kept the camera hidden inside an overcoat pocket,
afraid reducing Warsaw’s rebuilt bell towers
and cobblestone vistas to thirty-six frames per roll
would give me away as something I can’t help
not wanting to be. Yet I cannot resist the old lady
capped and gowned, as she is, in feather.
She lifts her arms to either side. The unmindful pigeons crowd,
peck along her flightless limbs, mocking her gravity
as they alternately spread and fold their wings.
Or maybe it isn’t mockery, but a mutual love that keeps them
flapping there and holds the woman still,
engenders in that coupling a dream of union,
where one light step might shift their weight to sky.
Hanji: Notes for a Paper-Maker
for Liu Yoon-Young
Shaped like a slab of granite
marking a grave, but light,
airy as “spirit-sheaves” lashed
from bloodroot or star-thistle,
this sheet is not for burial
but making and making of:
a caul of splinters boiled to pith,
broth cast then clotted to blank.
I touch it, feeling grit and slub
silk, rough as braille. Is it
enough, is this what you dreamed
of doing, making absence
palpable as pulp, though you laugh,
seeing I’m shocked at how much work
it took. Sow and mulch mulberry.
Slash trunks down a year later–
chopping slant to sun so stumps
heal, regrow–when their wood’s
tender but strong enough to keep,
no worms gnawing fleam or burl.
Soak, hack the black bark off,
tilt your knife at a sharp angle
to skive the green underskin
without cutting away good grain.
Scald the peeled rods with cotton-ash
so acid softens gnurl and knot.
Pound for hours until they’re ground
to shreds, skeins of unlikely thread.
You show me your blistered hands.
Poor hands. When you strike a match
to fire, I almost feel the skin sting,
kerosene flaming yontan-coal.