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Presenting the Winner of Boston Review's First Annual Poetry Contest: Daniel Bosch

When we announced Boston Review's first annual poetry contest this spring, we could not have predicted the overwhelming response it would inspire: over 1,600 entries, from poets all over the world--an impressive testament to the quality, vitality, and variety of contemporary poetry.

The submissions were read first by the Review's poetry editors, Mary Jo Bang and Timothy Donnelly, who selected 100 finalists for consideration by this year's judge, Jane Miller. To preserve the anonymity of the contestants and the impartiality of the judging, names and addresses were removed from the finalists' poems.

On behalf of the editors, I would like to thank Jane Miller for graciously accepting the challenge of picking a winner from a large group of deserving candidates. And I thank everyone who gave us an opportunity to read their work. Finally, I want to congratulate Daniel Bosch, whose winning selection of four poems you see here.

--Joshua Cohen

 

"Philadelphia" Starring Tom Hanks

"Big" Starring Tom Hanks

"Apollo 13" Starring Tom Hanks

"Forrest Gump" Starring Tom Hanks




"Philadelphia" Starring Tom Hanks

after Mandel'shtam

 

The clots of burnt engine oil that sink into my vat
are so globular, so plastic, that as I pour I think:
'Nowhere else on Earth could such shit happen
that I would take an interest in.' I watch them sink.

Next door they refuse to drink, as if the world didn't call for
cocktails and clowns. Don't go there. I'll tell you how it is:
days in piles, like unread sections of the newspaper.
They fight to ignore each other first, then pray in riots.

Until we suck down Seven Up, we keep to the black study.
The books show us their backsides before running away,
so we trace easy faces in the accumulated dust,
and wipe cool marble tables smooth as polished plains.

You say: 'The raisins are dead. Delicious, but dead.
If they weren't wrinkled, we wouldn't know their ranks.
In "Philadelphia" all hell broke loose, but here,
here there is only clean blood, and it is kept in banks.

Outside the plum-red room, all our noise comes unhemmed.
The attic, too, is bursting: how many vats of oil?
Don't forget what happened with the Frat: that guy we hated--
was it Kirk?--or Sammy?--Was he held responsible?

Black crude, black crude, burned and returned to the vat,
for how many miles did the tranny churn you
before those boys cracked their oil pan in our yard
and Jacqueline showed up, claiming she had nothing to do?'

 

"Big" Starring Tom Hanks

after Mandel'shtam

 

This is a Magic Kingdom. We must watch, not worry.
We must see like birds. We must pick up every pebble
fat Hansel drops. We must nest with our incredible
joysticks. (Without which there would be no story.)

Can you name the top five brands of tedium?
(Which is better than dying? They don't sell that here.)
We keep telling Hansel he has nothing to fear
from Mother Earth, a visual medium.

Outside Orlando, a liana noose
is common as mouse-ears. There's no news
on The Disney Channel. Is that good news?
You're hot as Hansel. Have an orange juice.

 

"Apollo 13" Starring Tom Hanks

after Mandel'shtam

 

Lift-off's gift is a Canaveral aurora,
a halo of orange thorns we tip back to see,
our hands raised to answer the shuttle's thunder . . .

We forget every perfect launch, every Saturn V
that wrote its sweet ant-track on a cake-blue sky.
(A Saturn V is like a good cigarette.)

It's not the smoke, then, not the eye-green sky,
but how long we stand and point. 'Houston, we have a problem.'
An embarrassing disaster: we glow like Granny Smiths.

At least we know the cause of our sudden deafness,
know why our astronauts stop looking back.
What's a fan's awe to a star's winking silence?

 

Which is only a refraction, Houston. Even tears refract.
Our tears are our haloes and first-stage boosters,
our Canaveral auroras and lift-off gifts.

 

"Forrest Gump" Starring Tom Hanks

after Mandel'shtam

1.

This is the river that sees everything,
a mirror even after our hearts have raced
ahead, like stones, trailing bubbles from the trench,
while we, like Christ, step lightly to the other side.

The stars reflected in it haven't seen shit,
no matter what our horoscopes burn to say
or with what conviction. Let's call them "Pilate lights,"
and then, like Christ, step lightly to the other side.

It's hazy, hot, and humid. It's always been.
The ripe sun reaps a free lunch--"chef's surprise"--
and blindly Xs the river's face with stitches
like you'd get if you played hockey, or Christ.

Add to the list of humanity's successes--
such as the internet and tax free capital gains--
Professor Christ's alacrity with extensions.
This river never threatens when it rains.

(Anyway the arks are already built
and the pilots undergo yearly review
in simulators that simulate simultaneous
loss of power supply and crew.)

Gump, Forrest,
Congressional Medal of Honor winner,
this river's a grave. It knows your need for rest.
It knows you're a talker, not a listener.

 

2.

Name a tectonic plate that doesn't practice
mutually assured destruction,
and then name one that really believes
it won't survive, lips hot with fiction,
pronouncing its new name, "Gaia,"
and teaching the stars how to spell it,
and using red lipstick to teach the stars.

 

3.

Infinitesimal decimal points
queue up at the nursery window, one by one,
to view the absolute value--still moist,
spattered with sticky goose-egg shards--a son.

A plane of planes defines the plane--
Westmoreland's arms spread wide as a bunker.
Our sons make the kind of news we'll call intelligence
tomorrow, and forever, after the fighting.

Three points define us and our intelligence.
We lost at Dienbienphu. We won at My Lai.
We slept through Tet. When our planes grew light,
We ran from the orange glow, the fighting.

Which now seems like intelligence.
Which now seems as obvious and polite
as listening to the zip of a body bag
echo in defoliated night.

 

4.

Kuwait was an Arabesque.
We ordered extra pixels and kept our distance.
Now Boeing builds us screen-sized nursery windows,
and we queue up for take-home Trans and Minhs.

And the best thing for the kids is to invest
in Boeing, in Raytheon, in United Technologies,
in crop circles, in the memory of those we saved
so much killing. Good Night Moon. Good Night Minh.

The natural consequences of air travel:
the duty-free purchases; the constant looking down,
like angels; the trenches filled with sand and pixels;
the earth in red lipstick; and burning refineries.

Up here we are close as family, as angels
crowding the heads of pins on strategic maps
or bending wheat stalks toward the centers of circles.
Our prayers are heard by the conservation of mass.

 

5.

Think of pixels as light infantry,
as night's sweet chariots swinging low
over white teeth busy ants have flossed;
think of the clicks of your mouse as friendly fire,
your taut power cord as the string on a bow.
None of us are whole, but none of us
admit it. Instead we find jobs in light industry
and drink at home, watching T.V. as fine dust
gathers on Tiny Tim's remote control--
no one may use it now--that's what love costs!

 

6.

In film there is the allegory of the bandage
doctors slowly unwind from a patient's skull:
beneath the gauze, prepared to repel invasion,
the still-lit pilot-lights, the windows to the soul.
In film no patient refuses the unwinding,
and the circle of doctors gasps at the miracles
of dilating and contracting decimals,
of irises the blues, greens, browns of Earth,
of sight's ovaries, its smooth cojones--for truly
the skull has balls--it sees everything and says nothing.
Except 'Here's mud in your eye, some silence you can sell.'
Alas, empty sockets, you knew the patient well.

 

7.

Like soldiers fanning out in patrols, bright sparks
leap from dark bivouacs with maps to the stars' homes
that are drawn on ash, and they faint when they see the stars
twinkling in Hollywood, or in poems.

The only people we really know are extras--
not even Oprah will step lightly to the other side--
but if the grave ahead outlives its reputation,
it's not because our astronauts haven't tried.

We pack our shuttles like phylacteries--
with bright sparks of prayer, with smoky poems
that read like intelligence--what with all the hurry
to leap from our dark bivouac to the stars' homes.

Yes, my conscience contracts, but it has a half-life
longer than Earth's embers, longer than chromosomes,
and if I'm called upon to give a toast,
I'll recite some optimistic poems.

By the hatch of the international space station
will they post a charm shaped like a T.V. console?

 

8.

My heart, which I gladly drop into the river,
clocks against the others on the bottom:
'I was born in the year 'sixty-one,'
'I was born in the year 'sixty-nine . . . '
and I try to step lightly, try not to listen
to such spheres' music: on my numb tympanum
beats instead, with an internal shiver:
'I was born at seven-thirty a.m.
on August second in the year of sinus rhythm
nineteen sixty-two. I will live to hear
the lies of the third millennium.'

According to Osip Mandel'shtam's wife, Nadezhda, the poet was conscious of matter as something that predisposed it to be used in building. This explains his attitude, she goes on to say, toward the world of things: "The world was not hostile to the poet or--as he put it--the builder, because things are there to be built from."

Daniel Bosch's poetry, after Mandel'shtam, is very much attached to earth and its dimensions. His poems construct themselves out of our illnesses, experiments, idols, and symbols. They seem to have been composed while recollecting something that hasn't been said before: "Don't forget what happened with the Frat: that guy we hated. . . . Was he held responsible?"

In another time, Constantine Cavafy made famous the emotion of everyday matter: "In his sleep he sees and has the figure, the flesh he longed for." Cavafy builds history slowly into the whole poem, "in the boring village where he's waiting out the time--"

Will the next poetry once again be made by poets who construct, rather than create, the lively presences "I," "we," and the reader? Daniel Bosch's version sculpts a reality out of tiers of artistic influence, cultural iconography, and the personal ("I'll tell you how it is").

--Jane Miller

 

Originally published in the October/November 1998 issue of Boston Review



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