Which is thinking – perforce – about laureateships
You might call this thoughts passing through the mind while contemplating the front lawn where the seed balls of the sweet gum tree must be raked up before the fertilizer can be applied, but which can not be done today because it is raining. So I might as well think about something else.
What I am thinking about is being judge of poetry in the laureate contest. Why me? How many better qualified people have already refused the dubious honor? Why not Whitbread, a practicing poet, a college professor, a Ph.D.? Was once enough for him? Is he too busy? Isn’t Rolfe speaking to him? I never seem to know who is currently feuding with whom, if anyone. How about Rowena Moitoret? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to have the winner one year act as judge the next time round? Or is Monaco too much of a mailing problem? And what of all the poets in N.A.P.A. so many of whom write well? Do they prefer participation to judging?
And what about participation? The poetry section is usually the most generously supplied with entries. Essay does fairly well. The others lag far behind. What are the writers and printers waiting for? The sour grape satisfaction of saying, “My work is better than the winner!” If May is not put up time for them, July is definitely shut up time. Are they afraid of competition, afraid of knowing someone else found their creation less wonderful than they thought? It happens to all of us, and if we are more concerned with excellence than praise, it will encourage us to work for improvement. And no one who has a laureate award wants it to say he’s the best of three, when it could and should say he’s the best of thirty. If you don’t care about winning, if you’re sure you’re not good enough to win, furnish some competitions anyway. Make the winner work hard enough for his laurels so that he will value them. And you never know what judges will do – even get fired for inactivity.
Last summer at Salt Lake City we discussed a constitutional amendment to ensure more entries in the laureate contests. The gist of our thinking was to enable an editor or any interested person to send in a publication or article he thought worthy of consideration. The publisher or writer would be notified of this, and unless he refused permission, the entry would stand. It was hoped some such action would by-pass the reluctance or the negligence of a member to put forward his own work. It does not take an amendment to put such a plan into action. Drop a note to the effect, “If I don’t hear from you to the contrary in the next…… days, I shall enter such-and-such of yours in the …… contest.” Then do it. I think that it’s legal. Which shows you the kind of judge I am. I’m sure it is legal to encourage someone whose work you’ve admired, to enter it himself. If we judges are snowed under by an avalanche of entries, we shall be happy to regard it as a case of killed by kindness.
I think it is better not to say what follows shows I am qualified to judge poetry. It might show just the opposite. Let’s say I like to write and poems fill odd bits of space nicely.
So many things I cannot understand –
Shadowy ghosts of moods that haunt the edge of thought,
Too dim to see and know, too real to count as nought:
Fear when the fears have died, yet let the feeling live,
Sorrow that only has the thought of sorrow to give.
Strange fancies born of dusk and loneliness –
So many things I cannot understand.
And from the Department of Utter Nonsense
Re That “Still of the Night” Business
What do they mean by the still of the night?
This is the time when the sounds of the day
Fade from the earth with the fading of light
And a faucet begins to drip.
The shrieking of children has ended with bed,
The meaningless drone of the bridge club is o’er.
The voice of commercials is silent and dead,
And the refrigerator grumbles through its cycle.
The clatter of pans in the kitchen is done,
The laundry equipment, the dishwasher stop,
The trucks rumbling by become now and then one,
And a couple of cats start fighting in the alley.
The mutter of mowers has ceased from the land,
The peal of the phone is repealed by the hour,
The doorbell invites no solicitor’s hand,
And the house creaks arthritically as it settles a little deeper.
The still of the night is the time you hear trains,
The chatter of insects, the squeaking of mice,
The sonic type booms from the miles away planes.
And a presumed burglar tripping over something in the dark.
Say what you will, it’s not so still.
A. Walrus, Editor