Rattle is proud to announce the winner of the 2012 Rattle Poetry Prize Readers’ Choice Award:
For the first time in 2012, a $1,000 Readers’ Choice Award was selected from among the Rattle Poetry Prize Finalists by subscriber vote. Only those with subscriptions prior to the announcement of the finalists were eligible. Of roughly 3,000 possible voters, 448 cast ballots, and Evans’ poem earned 18.2%. Here is what some of those readers had to say about their choice:
“Zeitgeber” gets my vote. The poet’s attention to craft is meticulous; the poet’s attention to the maze of Alzheimer’s is remarkable. I believe there is a deft handling of this subject with a grace and subtlety here that is not often found elsewhere. The sonnet’s sequencing is effective in that it draws attention to what is left of a person who is “still here” as the epigraph points out, and the waning images in the courtyard suggests Iris’s ongoing plight and the journeys of those who love her as well. A poem that moves with its language and images all at once. Well done!
The content, tenor, pacing, vocabulary, images, rhythms, and slam-bang virtuosity of Evans’s sonnet sequence just blow me away. Its magical scenario lodged in my head and wouldn’t go away. Amazing—everything else in my head seems to flitter away freely at all times no matter what I do—except for a certain Chopin Ballade and my latest grocery list.
I like the form of the poem, in “tetralight” style; it has a flavor that is both current and nostalgic, just like the dramatic character, Iris. The tone of the words has the same effect on the reader—that is, to allow identification with the situation in parallel fashion—almost antithetical. There is a longing in us to age gracefully, but also to remain ageless. One favorite line is, “the sun can tweak her mechanism just right,” because of its truth and mega-meaning incorporating time, nature, and mortality. While “the day no one can postpone,” is reality, the method in which this occurs—whether in a pleasant courtyard or by lightning strike—remains unknown, and uncelebrated.
I took great pleasure in the “organic” quality of the poem. Creating a structured poem that can flow with a deep poetic voice without artifice, is an artistic accomplishment. The title, the setting of the garden, the nature of the patients’ disease, moving the content from the particular to the universal, the gentle, natural rhymes and rhythmns are beautifully rendered. All work together like carefully chosen threads in a treasured tapestry. The more traditional structure of the poem carries the weight of a very present human dilemma—one so many are experiencing and one that has been and will be with us for all time.
I’m not well-versed enough in poetry forms to know what type of structure was used, but the line repetition added a wonderful sense of rhythm. As did the skillful rhyming, which is not sing-song, but so smooth that I felt it subtly and was not distracted by it. Ms. Evans’ poem touched me with its matter-of-fact approach to a disease about which I have a phobia. I found the rust/dust analogy interesting and apt, and I read this piece repeatedly, just to savor the flow.
“Zeitgeber” is refreshing and beautiful: “For Iris fidgets there, among the blooms/ She says, Is this a maze? I think I’m lost.” Wow! What a powerful, and true, description of Alzheimer’s. These lines draw me right into the poem, and it never lets me go. What a treat it is to be swept off my feet by a poem!
To read the poem, pick up a copy of Rattle #38, or wait to read it when it appears online this summer. In the meantime, here is an excerpt, just the first section:
One hour in sunshine every morning is the best zeitgeber. Residential group settings for people living with Alzheimer’s…often include access to a garden designed for safety, way-finding and place-awareness.
—John Zeisel, I’m Still Here
The courtyard’s small, but pleasant in its way:
young birches, laurel, and a bed of roses,
a winding path, picked out in red and gray,
the painted wrought iron chairs where, one supposes
two residents could sit and play at chess
upon the table, basking in the sun,
while sipping tea…but here I must confess
such fantasy breaks down as soon begun.
For Iris fidgets there, among the blooms.
She says, Is this a maze? I think I’m lost.
The single door leads back into the rooms,
which keep her warm and safe, despite the cost.
Still, sitting in the rich September light,
I think she knows how far she is from night.
Evans’ “Zeitgeber” was the clear winner, but all ten of the finalist poems received a significant number of votes, and each had their own enthusiastic fans. No one received less than 5.5% — 1 in 19 readers would have selected any of the poems a winner. That might be the best lesson to take away from any readers’ choice award in poetry: tastes are subjective. As a testament to that, here are just a few comments we received about the other finalists:
On “Janes Heartbreak Yard Sale” by Lytton Bell:
Precise writing, clean lines, no side trips, no convoluted layout. Just a simple story that, once read, unfolds what isn’t said. All poems should be as considerate of a reader’s attention.
On “Time Out” by John Brehm:
It seems like I spend most days bearing witness to the damage done to children by parents who would have been better suited to caring for pet rocks. And there’s hardly ever a time and place to take a stand (two or three times in all my years). I love that this poem captures this awareness of damage, the momentary advocacy of a small child; I love that it captures the child’s defiance (and also the knowledge that she’s just too small, and the father and mother too big for that defiance to be enough). And I most love that the poem captures the insanity and obliviousness of some parents and the murk of their own histories lurking … never knowing, for sure, whether insanity, obliviousness, or cruelty (or some ghastly combination) explain the behavior. It’s a necessary poem.
On “My 1930 Model A Ford” by Norma Chapman:
First reading I nearly audibly inhaled. The last line is lasting in its brevity, directness, and simplicity. It is nearly a logistical, actuarial line, but it is not cold or numeric. I find a sadness and a matter-of-factness, a clear-eyed acknowledgement of the way things are. There is a command and a restrain about the piece. It spans a few generations, and a time bygone, with such thrift. It leaves lasting images of the car (of another era), especially the car painted a flat, home interior green, the two dancing to music of another era, recalling a Norman Rockwell moment, and allows the reader’s imagination to conger the circumstances of two friends from a distant past reviving a friendship. All very deft and masterful, and unexpected. And it ages well.
On “How Was Your Weekend?” by Kim Dower:
Kim Dower’s poem has an almost delicate turn at the end and manages to feel simultaneously strange and familiar. An elegant bluntness gives it an interesting contrast with the weirdness of the normal. Also, it mentions mint chip ice cream lovingly.
On “The Robbery” by Catherine Freeling:
There’s something so compelling about “The Robbery” and its obsessions. I find it a wonderful example of the particular being made universal since I think anybody who frets over having not locked the door could easily be caught in such an interior monologue. I admire the way this poem-story (I wish somebody would invent a word) pulls me in, the way it refuses to relinquish its hold even for a second, and the way it builds toward a conclusion that seems inevitable once I’ve read it but that still delighted me with its rushing release from the very obsessiveness that had led me so skillfully through the narrative.
On “Dear Proofreader” by David Hernandez:
Well that image of “each period/ a lone figure in the snow” is so compelling I stopped in my tracks to admire it. Also he’s simply written a very clever poem. I like the way he weaves the reader into the poem, first via a mirror, where we’re invited to imagine “a caveman encased in ice”—and somehow we’re staring back at ourselves too “with icy precision” in that section—and then in the center of the poem WE enter again, “Godlike,” to judge the quality of his punctuation and work. The whole package works for me: it’s entertaining, many-layered, self-aware, and clever.
On “Patio Tomatos” by Krista Lukas:
This is the poem that I found myself thinking of days later. An excellent and engrossing situation fully developed, with a surprise twist and a great sense of humor. Who have have thought a failed metaphor could make such a great metaphor for everything.
On “For Those Who Never Know What to Say to Widows” by M:
I chose this because of its immediacy and its descriptive power- M quietly exposed something none of us ever want to face, but inevitably will. The poem put me right inside the situation, and her economic fluidity of language rings beautiful and true.
On “The Return” by Kenny Williams:
A profoundly elegant and truly haunting poem. It leaves us with more questions than answers, as all poems should. A “return” to what from what? What would have the speaker flee for 40,000 years? And what does the striking image of the birdcage symbolize? I keep returning to this piece again and again looking for clues.