Most of us here in Australia were sipping coffee rather than eating ice cream when we logged into the Ice Cream Social at 7.30 am Eastern Australian Daylight Time on Sunday 31st October – it was 4.30 pm Saturday in New Jersey. Patricia A. Florio, the founding publisher of American Writers Review, was a most welcoming convenor.
This was a celebration of the huge achievement of putting together the 2021 edition of American Writers Review, an anthology titled Turmoil and Recovery in recognition of the exceptionally difficult year everyone has faced. The first reader was Andrea Rabaduex, winner of the 2021 AWR contest judged by Jean Colonomos, Richard Key, Lenore Hart, Patrick O’Neil, Holly Tappen and our very own Elwood Writers member, Margaret McCaffrey. Andrea’s poem, ‘Requiem for Believers’, was written when her husband was serving in Afghanistan. Phrases I found particularly poignant were, ‘the sun still shone somewhere that day’ and ‘This is how to exhale God – quietly / into the humid space before dawn’s clouds / meet pale mourning.’
Then our own members read their pieces that had been selected for publication in the anthology. First was Barry Lee Thompson, who read his short story ‘Glassy’. Barry was complimented on his beautiful reading. There was opportunity for questions, but, as with the poem, people were quite stunned by the beauty of the writing. A woman walking by a river sees an empty green wine bottle and there is communication between her and the bottle: ‘… a vibration. High pitched and faint, like a tuning fork … A confidential whispering of its glass body.’
Helen McDonald firstly read her poem ‘Restoration’: ‘I wish I had a broom and could climb / mini-sized into your beautiful brain / to scrub and clean punctured vessels …’ This prompted discussion with an audience member on the themes and inspiration for the poem. Helen then read ‘COVID Lockout’, explaining that a haibun is a short piece of prose followed by a haiku that resonates with the prose. She was congratulated for her beautiful writing.
The next reader, Shelly Gill Murray read her Covid-inspired short story ‘Meeting Grandma at the Window’, a moving account of visiting her 98-year-old grandma who was in isolation in a facility. Their meeting was inevitably diminished by having to meet looking through the barrier of a window and having to talk through a phone. In the end each put their hands up to the pane of glass, but they couldn’t actually touch. Members of the audience said that Shelly’s story touched their hearts and reminded them of attempts to meet their mothers and other vulnerable people during these hard times.
Anita S. Pulier joked about her transfer from legal writing to being a poet. She started by reading a love poem she’d written during lockdown, ‘Memo’. It was about the love of older people who have loved each other for a long time: ‘what once was morphing to what is’. She then read an extraordinary poem on a similar theme: ‘IF (Barbie discovers that Ken is a Proud Boy)’.
The next piece to be read was by Ana M. Fores Tamayo: ‘New Day Dawn/El Amanecer’. Donna Ferrara (editor of AWR) read what was described as an interpretation rather than a translation from the Spanish – you cannot literally translate poetry. It was a poem of stunning imagery: ‘The wolf dog sniffed the stillborn air’ … ‘yet soon the sun would break its silent inkwell’.
Co-winner of the 2021 contest was Anne Casey, a Sydney-based Irish poet. Her poem, ‘Our Prime Minister Says the Vaccine is Not a Silver Bullet’, was read by Patricia Florio. It expresses the anguish during lockdown of hoping to have a reunion with her father in Dublin; the poem moves between Australian scenes of a kookaburra in ‘the flagging liquidambar’ and ‘icy sleet / piercing the winter’, where her father is in Ireland.
The anthology is beautifully illustrated, particularly with artwork by Holly Tappen and Carol MacAlister. After the reading of Anne’s poem, Carol passed on thanks and congratulations to Donna and Patricia for the fine publication and all of the work that had gone into judging the pieces and producing the anthology.
We in Australia cherished this ‘hands across the ocean experience’ – how wonderful to be able to participate in this event as it happened in New Jersey! Very few good things have come from the last two years dominated by pandemic, but although international borders have been closed, we have become more adept at using technologies which enable us to be with groups such as the Jersey Shore Writers and have the privilege of experiencing their welcoming hospitality.
If you’d like to read and appreciate more of the writing and artwork in this anthology, American Writers Review 2021 can be purchased from the link here.