me at Mac’s on May 11th 2011 — photo by Dianne Borsenik

On Wednesday May 11th 2011. I participated in the annual Hessler Street Fair poetry competition in Cleveland Heights.  A couple of months or so back, everyone was invited to send three to five poems to editor Joshua Gage.  He then chose a maximum of one piece by each poet to include in the 2011 Hessler Street Fair Poetry Anthology.  Each contributor was then encouraged to read his or her poem from the anthology at Mac’s Backs Books on Coventry on the 11th.  I sent him three poems, but didn’t find out which one he’d selected for inclusion until I arrived for the reading and purchased a copy of the book ($2.50 for the first copy if you’re a contributor — $5 for each subsequent copy or for non-contributors).  After everyone read, three judges (Geoffrey Landis, Mary Turzillo and Jill Riga — last year’s competition winners) would go upstairs to deliberate and choose this year’s three winners.

This was my third year participating, and I figured my chances at winning were improved, since there was a new rule forbidding the past three years’ winners from competing. But I knew it would depend on which of my three poems Josh selected. When I arrived and saw my Been Dover Beach (the last one I thought he’d choose) in the anthology, I knew my chances had diminished, since the winning poets would be expected to read their contributions live a couple of weeks later at the Hessler Street Fair, broadcast on WRUW 91.1 FM radio, and this was the least radio-friendly piece, as well as the least accessible and probably weakest poem, of the three I’d submitted.  However, winning isn’t everything, and I mainly went to have fun, hear good poetry and video the proceedings for posterity. Despite giving what I thought was a fairly strong performance, it didn’t help that I stumbled on a word, was up against several strong poems and performances by others and happened to read near the beginning of a long list of poets.

Each reading was given two scores by each judge: one for the poem on the page and one for the performance.  Apparently, the judges had a difficult time agreeing on three winners.  When they finally returned to the bookstore’s basement where the rest of us were waiting anxiously, they announced five names in all, first giving honorable mentions to Michael Bernstein and T.M. Göttl, then revealing the cash-winning top three:

3rd place — Andrew Line for “Catalyst”
2nd place — Shelley Chernin for “Rise and Shine”
1st place — Vladimir Swirynsky for “Already the Sky on Bent Knees”

I want to congratulate everyone who contributed to the anthology — and of course all the winners!  I encourage you to pick up a copy of the book at Mac’s Backs, 1820 Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights, Ohio — or at the Hessler Street Fair itself on May 21-22, 2011.  I recorded the whole thing, so stay tuned for videos from the event, coming soon to my YouTube channel and the Crisis Chronicles Online Library.  You can also check out my photo album from that night on Facebook.  Here’s a video Dianne Borsenik recorded of me reading Been Dover Beach that evening, followed by the poem’s text.

Been Dover Beach
a poem for a moment now already passed
a poem to and about no one but me and maybe Matthew Arnold
a quasi narcissistic masturbation that means nothing beyond what it means

Grab your ankles let’s get
Intimate for a moment
Now already passed
Growing learning gingerly
Earning ego stamps with every poor choice
Raping whirlwinds of
Cliche and catatonia with every self
Righteous reach creeping
Under punctuation
Commaless karma
In and through the bloodbaths of historical
Fiction hysterical faction incisive
Indecision and endless revision while an
X still marks the spot
I try desperately to erase from the fabric
Of this insoluble and/or insolvent sunrise that I’ll
Never let stay set even if it means I must bend over with you

        and shoot the moon