Posted June 5, 2019.

2019 Spring Contest Winner: 1st Place, Traditional Form–Ghazal


by Eleanor Berry

Venus of Urbino, Olympia—each successive version slips
farther indoors from the mythic landscape where Botticelli’s Venus sleeps.

In Hiratsuka’s Breakfast on the Bed, the reclining female is not nude,
though she appears so from a distance. Up close, one sees she’s wearing a slip.

From outside the frame, a maid comes bearing, not a bouquet, but a stack
of pancakes. This sharp-boned model won’t eat all that. After coffee, she’ll slip

into a sheath or pencil skirt, pick up her smartphone.
When, newlyweds, we rented our first flat in Toronto, I was still such a slip

of a girl that the next-door neighbor mistook me for a minor.
Christmases with my husband’s family, he and I would slip

out of the noisy house, walk among the stones in the graveyard down the street.
In my mother-in-law’s bird books, many pages are marked with slips

of paper, neatly penciled with notes on her sightings.
To stabilize the steep bank, we planted slips

of native shrubs—bare sticks that took root and grew.
Each spring they leaf out; each summer they bloom. Season slips

into season, year into year. We were the youngest and looked
younger than our ages. Decades have slipped

by, and now we’re often surprised to find ourselves the oldest.
Over eons, continents drift, crustal plates slip

and grind against each other. Geologists measure their movements.
The lines of a poem are a seismograph of sorts, recording slips

of the tongue against the teeth and the roof of the mouth—not mere
sound and motion, but the pressure behind them of all that seeks to slip

through the cracks in the form. Artists sign their compositions—Tiziano Vecelli,
Edouard Manet, Yuki Hiratsuka—claiming them as their own even as they slip

from their hands, to be transformed in turn by later artists’ visions
as movement succeeds movement, era slips

into era. Poets do likewise, as I, to bring to an end this twenty-first-century
American twist on an ancient Persian form, let slip

my name, Eleanor Berry.

Judge’s comments

I love the wit, complexity and scope of this poem, the way it slides across eras and continents, embracing art history, geology, poetics, and personal history. I applaud the poet’s choice of the lovely and malleable “slip” as the repeating word. A gorgeous ghazal in every way.

—Kathleen McClung

Poet bio

Eleanor Berry moved to western Oregon from Wisconsin in 1994. A former teacher of writing and literature at Willamette University, Marquette University, and other colleges, she is a past president of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies and of the Oregon Poetry Association. She has two books of poetry, Green November (Traprock Books, 2007) and No Constant Hues (Turnstone Books of Oregon, 2015). A chapbook, Only So Far, is forthcoming from Main Street Rag.

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