Our poetry of witness award is newly sponsored by Doug Stuber and has been renamed to honor Bruce Lader.
Of Bruce, Doug writes, “Bruce Lader wrote a wide variety of poems of witness that addressed many issues of our day. By applying his philosophy in wry verse he helped us nervously laugh about the foibles of those in charge of government and the armed services.”
Click this link to read one of Bruce’s poems, from the June 1994 issue of Poetry magazine: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=38967
The Bruce Lader Poetry of Witness Award for 2021 will be judged by Kristina Erny.
Kristina is a third culture poet who grew up in South Korea. Her poetry has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Yemassee, Bluestem, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from the University of Arizona, and her work has been the recipient of the Tupelo Quarterly Inaugural Poetry Open Prize and the Ruskin Art Club Poetry Award. Her manuscript Wax of What’s Left was a finalist for Tupelo Press’s Dorset Prize, Ahsahta Sawtooth Poetry award, and the Colorado Prize for Poetry. After many years of teaching internationally, she currently teaches creative writing at Asbury University and lives in Kentucky with her husband, sons, and daughter.
Of the role of the poet, she says:
“Rick Barot has a brilliant sequence of poems entitled ‘During the Pandemic.’ In Number 30, he writes ‘And there were days when I remembered the teacher who made us memorize a poem each week, and when we asked why, she said we might one day find ourselves in a wreck at the side of the road and we would recite these poems to stay alive.’
This summer I participated in a Writing Lab facilitated by Sarabande Books taught by Louisville poet Joy Priest. This was what got me through after months of quarantine, after marching, after watching my state of Kentucky and a city very close to where I live join the national stage in protest to American police brutality and injustice. Our little band of writers met on zoom for three weeks. We were writing into the wind, attempting to shout our own stories, our own visions, our own dreams, imagining a future for human survival and thriving. The poet’s role is to be alive, their mind an antennae to human experience. The poet’s role is one of truth-telling, bearing witness. This is necessary, essential: water, breath, light. Poetry’s mask demands speaking, not staying silent.
How did we survive 2020? The challenges of 2020 have underlined, bolded, and italicized the necessity of poetry to our survival as a species. Not only does poetry make space for the imaginative work which will ultimately shape our future, I believe that poetry has a unique capacity to engage human empathy and understanding. Maybe it’s the ability of poetry, as Naomi Shihab Nye has said, to hold space for the ‘other’. To place it’s hand around a frame and say, look at this. Be tender. Let your heart be changed. You are not alone. We are not alone.”
Kristina shares this poem with us:
The Mother Brushes Her Son’s Hair
He’s tender-headed. She’s annoyed at his flinching, his calling out. This ritual
cost of his long hair, longer than hers though hers isn’t long by any means.
He made her a mother young, and there are days, like this one,
she can hardly believe the same bald-headed baby thrust into her arms
is this boy, as if this one sprang up fully formed out of a cactus flower,
just arrived this morning, to have her comb his hair. His jeans are rolled up,
his bony elbows recently skinned. Between shudders, he looks himself in the eye.
At his age, she’d sprawled on a red cushion, her hands a tripod beneath her chin,
all her lenses aimed toward her teacher’s voice and the story of an unlikely sailor,
a young girl who’d dressed as a boy, cut her own hair, and sailed into a cliffhanger
at the end of each chapter. Her boy could be Charlotte, gentry turned sea-dog,
arms muscled into tight strips of licorice, reaching for the next rigging, hair in his eyes.
Last year she’d watched as he sat on a bench while two gangly short-shorn older
boys pointed fingers long as levels at him are you a girl?
They’d moved their accusatory palms to their mouths, eating giggles,
and she’d watched. Her boy slumped downward, looked at his shoes.
Now here he is in front of her. Hair almost to his waist. She sets down the brush
and hugs her body into his shoulders. He allows her this. He runs out the bathroom door.