On being understood

I’ve just learned that a poem of mine, “Fainting Goats,” was awarded a prize from the journal in which it appears, Philadelphia Poets. Liz Abrams-Morley was the judge.

To my delight, the editor of Philadelphia Poets (the lovely and talented Rosemary Cappello) requests judges to write their rationale for choosing the poems as winners, and here’s what Abrams-Morley has to say about “Fainting Goats.” She understands the poem, and that feels deeply rewarding to me.

A very close third place, Ann Michael’s “Fainting Goats” is a poem which intrigues and engages from its unexpected title (and subject) to its terrific, enlarging and emotionally challenging final stanza.  The opening is conversational, a straightforward statement which addresses the reader, and introduces an unexpected fact: “Next door, the neighbor is raising goats.” This drew me right in to the detailed treatise on the quirky fainting behavior of goats, which are almost playfully and so perfectly described as murmuring “like a small crowd at a/magic show” and rolling on their sides “like live piñatas.”   The poem takes a darker turn as Michael reveals that the goats are living distractions, bred by shepherds to draw predators away from sheep. “Think of the white sheep fleeing in droves,// …toward safety while the goat/recovers, bellering, attempting its escape.”  The neighbor, meanwhile, simply “chose them for their novelty,” a statement which chilled this reader following, as it does, immediately on the heels of the harrowingly detailed description of the goat as potential sacrifice to some predator.  As a reader, I felt the panic of prey animals and heard that goat’s cry.

Structurally everything about this poem works.  The unrhymed quatrains, even meter,  conversational language and line breaks—all the poetic choices Michael makes support the poem’s content and feel “right,” even inevitable.

The final stanza opens out the poem, enlarges its vision magnificently, transforms the goat story from conversational tale into powerful metaphor.  Michael’s closing is flat- out gorgeous and provocative.  It leaves the reader, as many of the best poems do, with a question to ponder, rather than with commentary or answer.  I found myself returning and returning to these lines: “This is how//we keep our frailties alive, inbred, and how we fall/ sometimes luckily, sometimes into the jaws/of a starving winter day, asking ourselves if it’s destiny/or heredity.”

I am always interested in how other people interpret my work and appreciate it when they see things that I may not have had in mind; but Ms. Abrams-Morley gleaned from my poem the very things I intended.

Thank you!

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