2014 New York Browning Society NYC Poetry Contest Winners + Short List
Marymount School of New York
Teacher: Andrew Hay
With reference to “Sonnet 43” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
A Curse Upon the Poets
The poet trips on words. He says they shake
Like cherries from a branch in weathered wind,
Red in the grass for pallid hands to take.
He says they burn like Pentecost, descend
In flurries with a still, small voice, or snake
Like brown mud-bubbles in unburied bend
Up, up, the murky strata of a lake
For surface-searching eyes to apprehend.
I think, perhaps, the words belong to ghosts
Of bards whose feet fell pyrrhic early, or
Who never let last aspirations coast
Across the ripples of a vellum shore.
It isn’t sad—we need this restless host
Of squandered images and metaphors
To haunt us, should we ever hope to boast
Of writing truths that have been true before.
Some rhymes, I’ll wager, trod the steamy trail
To hell whenever Chaucer commandeered
A tavern with the promise of a tale.
His tankard filled (and limit long since neared),
He’d climb a shaking table to regale
The bar-bench pilgrims, cock his fiery beard
And drown the sordid story dead with ale:
The plot, as soon imagined, disappeared.
And Barrett! Once you counted loves, wrote by
Iambic and a fire fading red
While Robert snored—‘til one day, I surmise,
You found a rhyming quatrain in your head
But, seeing that the short hand pointed high
And higher up the clock-face, chose instead
To close your book and both your batty eyes
And, waking dafter, found the poem fled.
Catullus, why your sudden vanishing
Of verse? Perhaps you raged at what you wrote,
Retired from the frantic scavenging
Of dactyls, towed a shallow wooden boat
To Larius, and took to angling.
Or Lesbia was cruel—you burned your notes,
Dug up the sparrow, broke its brittle wings
And stuck your honeyed words back down your throat.
But words were never choked in vain, for still
Beneath the silence of the country scene,
Unfinished poets plowed the earth, until
One writer found his breathing body keen
To take the air with clouds and daffodils.
There, speckled as the golden and the green,
Cold, inky fingers sprouting from the hills
Muddied his pages while he sat serene.
When Hopkins watched his dapple-dawn-drawn bird
Sweep smooth the sky, no psalm was to be found—
He only knew his heart in hiding stirred.
His sonnet might have been no more profound
Than “Blimey, that!” had not a long-interred
Old poet risen from his grassy mound
And, breathing through the breeze, whispered a word
As fit another scorner of the ground.
In truth, old dead, I pray you rose again—
I pray you found, once rain and roots renewed
A mustard tree, a house to revel in,
A feast by mulled camaraderie imbued
(Or, if you tired of the gab of men,
A sylvan path, a stream, some solitude).
But if you died who once could hold a pen:
I wish you—cordially—disquietude.
High School of American Studies @ Lehman College
Favorite Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem: A Dead Rose
There’s a small, white room.
It’s windowless, lacking a door, just a hollow box.
I sit against a wall, it’s nothing more than cardboard
Covered in drywall
And slathered in cheap, white paint.
My only company’s a mirror.
Its reflection contains a girl,
She smiles prettily and braids her hair
Day in and day out.
When I put my hand to the chalky surface of the wall,
I feel a slight humming.
It is alive, whatever is behind that wall.
I put my ear upon it and hear sounds:
The laugh of a child,
The whistling of a breeze through budding leaves.
When I push upon the thin walls, they give way at the corners.
I can see through the cracks.
There is a blue sky, streaked liberally with gold.
If I just could push hard enough,
If I could knock down these walls
I would taste sweet freedom.
Don’t do that.
I turn around.
It’s her, the girl in the mirror.
You’re safe here.
I pull back.
The walls seal closed, blocking the sky from my view.
There is nothing but hardship beyond those walls.
You’ll get hurt out there.
I slump against the wall once again.
I sit there as I have
For the past hour
The girl smirks at me,
A small huddled mass on the floor.
Look at you, weak and insignificant.
You wouldn’t last a day out there.
I stare at the girl, her rope-like braids swinging around her hips.
She has not felt the gentle buzzing of the world
Alive behind the wall.
She has not heard the burbling of a newborn child
Or the joyous calls of the birds
Weaving their way through the tree branches
To be one with the infinite sky.
These sounds beckon me,
Fill me with strength unknown to me.
I stand up, taller than I’ve ever been,
And I push, the thick, corded muscle beneath my skin aiding me.
The walls crack and crumble,
The cheap paint and plaster, once containing me, fall to pieces at my feet.
The girl is screaming, clawing at her perfect hair.
The small, white room begins to rumble and quake.
The walls begin to buckle.
The mirror falls and shatters into a million shards.
The girl is reflected in them, her braids coming undone.
You can’t! You won’t!
But just watch me.
Watch me crash through these walls,
Once formidable, impregnable, indestructible.
Watch me break these chains,
Self forged with all my fears and tears.
Watch me emerge from the smoking rubble
And stand above it all
As I spread my
Spirit in Debt
O flame who sparked the embers of our hearts,
From nothing forged the kindling keeping it lit,
I beg, beseech thee for a second start.
I know nothing, not even that, and it
Burns harsh to think how barren minds become
When lost just leagues before god-gifted wit.
Please penetrate my sullen mind, my dumb
Insatiable quest for knowledge I trust true,
So I may scribe divine to save sin succumbed.
That heart that burned from you now burns for you,
So please receive these prayers to ease the scars;
Reversal of fortune, please, I’m overdue—
A message blessed by you passed through the stars.
The Browning School
Red encroaching on consciousness.
Raw rage perverting crystalline clarity.
That which cannot be touched is most apparent, yet
reason reminds me it cannot be.
Apathy allows the meek to pacify all
affect which Adam’s apple allowed,
but not I.
Damn that abject combat; that arrant
struggle that silent solicitors smile at
as resistance recedes and pernicious fury takes hold.
“Find a center,” said Father.
Yet Fate finds fault with the fables
our parents spoon-feed us: of trains making
passage through tunnels that have thus far
But not my mind.
The wood wedge is in place and all its contents
Rush to the light.
Red. Like the Nile incarnadine.
Red. Like Pickett’s Charge.
Red! Like the fire within me that so desperately
wants to hurt as recompense for indiscretion.
Surely someone sees the sincerity
of suppression. We were taught this.
Silence seeps into some secret crevice that
disseminates its song through my skull.
Silence finds its way to my center.
All is whole.
Yet at the back of my mind
Frank Sinatra School of the Arts
Sofia Apostolidis, AP of instruction
Favorite Browning Poem: My Star by Robert Browning
Favorite Browning Poem: Two In The Campagna by Robert Browning
Love in a pair of “DEEP” eyes
The hour glass that tips over and cracks.
The heart that plummets to the surface of Earth.
The volcanoes and riptides that swarm their way around me and push me towards the terrifying mission I must complete.
I look at you as I fall beneath my feet through your heart like a burning fire. It burns up the line of heat that strings between us.
My heart swells and the sound of drums that thump in my ears are your longing heart.
All I see is the crystal waters with a shine of the sun for those are your eyes.
All I feel is a shock of warmth among the coldest of winters.
My mind travels through that quizzing forest.
Feet glide across that marble concrete as I want to be with him every second of every day.
The clock of life is ticking.
Time is running out.
I am blood thirsty. I need you, I love you.
And the most enchanting part is you adore me.
Cardinal Spellman High School
You were neither the star
nor in the ensemble cast.
your name appeared in twentieth billing,
bypassed by everybody.
Hardly an Elphaba
belting on stage.
Never could adapt the tragic beauty of a Fantine,
though you can dream.
Assumed you’d be an understudy
but you were simply a minor-
Blending on stage with the rest
and their pink polka-dotted stockings.
Everyone’s lives so fulfilled and complete.
the spines of their biographies
were stretched in defeat
(with several dog-eared pages).
You were lucky enough to be a contender
in someone else’s brief, easily forgotten chapter.
Regarding your life,
you gave up the title of director;
didn’t even bother to be a projector.
The screenwriter determined your grisly fate
on a wide multiplex screen,
you finally dying.
And no one in the audience cared.
A thunderbolt strikes down on the grass below,
originating from a family of dark clouds where
rains falls like ash in the foreboding sky and
a weather vane swings precariously on its isolated perch.
A porch door slams shut;
there is a momentary respite of silence
before the wind once again picks up its
incessant howling and the storm continues to rage.
The sky is clear and the clouds part
yet beneath the sunny exterior,
the unkempt grounds are soaked in rain
and littered with debris.
The Mary Louis Academy
“The Hands of Fortitude”
As I lay on this cold, stone bed near heaven,
I glance at my hands that lay on my chest.
Rising and falling with each fateful breath taken,
Yet keeping their strong grip to grasp onto life.
I remember the time when I was a young boy,
Living each day of my life to the fullest.
Being free from chains filled my heart with pure joy.
I would look at the hands I still had today.
Not a wrinkle or blemish could taint my hands,
The embodiment of life and my very own spirit.
They gripped tight to my tenets and true to my plans.
I fought hard against injustice, although they were bare.
But as time went on, my hands began to change
The years of wisdom and mistakes became evident.
Slowly, between my hands, appeared metal chains,
Because my hands were not of their hue.
My people’s hands became those of disgrace,
But with my hands, I would not stop the fight
For though they tried, pride could not be erased.
Eventually, though I gained scars, the battle was won.
And I lay here, on this cold stone bed near heaven,
And look at the hands who have kept me alive.
No longer can they keep their lively expression.
I glance at my pure hands for the first time.
Saint Vincent Ferrer High School
Favorite Poem – My Heart and I by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The Problems With Music
I surround myself with beautiful music.
It all streams into my ears,
Seeping into my head, chanting the words of broken dreams
Or newfound lovers.
They speak a dialect known for its passion,
Because no one can convince the soul that the feelings burrowed inside are lies and can be ignored,
For to do that,
Is to go against human nature.
I play music so beautiful,
I feel crippled and deformed.
Held back by not just age,
But from the people I haven’t met and the experience I haven’t gained.
The roles of society twisted and knotted into loosely tied words,
Telling a tale you cannot help but yearn to feel connected to.
How far will some girls go just to feel a shred of endearment told in the thousands of melodies and tunes?
Because fairy tales don’t come true,
And the knight and shining armor doesn’t come with the perfect pair of shoes.
Thousands are left waiting,
Wondering if dreams do come true.
The lyrics begin to construct a scene and I am put in the center.
Slowly and eerily the music brings forth emotions deeply stored,
And I begin to spew out everything I fumbled to keep on a short leash,
I am flipped inside out,
Raw and empty.
Yet I still listen to the same songs over and over again,
Because they speak the words and feel the feelings I didn’t have,
The Browning School
The Innocent Flower
Cold, her hand was frozen cold
I clutched it and felt the frostbite.
“Brr,” I heard her whisper. “Brr,
I feel especially chilly tonight.”
Ice gushes bitter through
The veins, freezing the entire body,
Just as a snake’s venom
Poisons noxiously and lethally.
She seemed sweet.
Her façade concealed by
A smile. She was striking
And sometimes offered a pleasing goodbye.
The innocent flower
Is assassinated by snow.
For frost strangles its vivacious colors
Until only its dark roots remain to show.
Love can be so unsatisfying
In practice, for two hearts
Are cut cold in each denial.
Yet, most lovers know both parts.
Cold, my hand was frozen cold
I clutched it and felt the frostbite
“Brr,” I whispered to myself. “Brr,
She was especially cold tonight.”