Friday, May 10, 2019

Winner 2019 Cantor Award: "The Poet's Broken Heart" by Renee Podunovich

I am thrilled that my poem "The Poet's Broken Heart" has been selected as the winner of the 2019 Cantor Award as part of the annual Telluride Literary Arts Festival. The Cantor Award is for a poem by a Colorado poet and I am so happy that this year's judge, Rafael Jesus Gonzolez selected it. The prize = $500 ! Wow, I look forward to the festival and to reconnecting with long-time poet friends from Telluride's vibrant Talking Gourds community in a few weeks, as well as reading this poem at the awards event.

"The wound is the place where the Light enters you." -Rumi

Heart Chakra

My writing group loved this poem when I wrote it last fall, made me read it to them over and over again- stated I should post it on Valentines Day. I didn't have the heart for that on heart day this year. In fact, I haven't shared this poem or offered it at recent readings. It's a pretty vulnerable poem.

I haven't had my heart broken in a long time- more than a decade really. Life circumstances, people, places, losses all can break us open. The last time was in my mid-30s- heartbreak by loss of huge life dreams, culminating in utter lostness and meaninglessness, ultimately leading to a career change and of course, another book of poems. This time, certain circumstances combined to form a unique, exquisite pain, one I won't ever forget.

If you are a poet and you write love poems, you are expected in some way to push the edges of language in order to capture the depth of feelings, and in the best cases, find the lexicon to hold experiences that are truly beyond the scope of language itself. And then to be brave enough to offer those intense sentiments to others- others who are hungry for that soul food, even if they don't know they are until they hear the calling in the words.

I decided that if I was going to write a heartbreak poem, I was going to push the drama of my metaphors to the furthest edges, make the imagery intense and transparent, not apologize or rationalize how much it hurts to be broken.

Just the very last lines offer a direction of healing that is to come, because breaking open creates an opportunity, you know. We could remain closed, safe, unentangled. But to open, to risk, to engage with life fully despite the reality of impermanence, and then to engage fully with the disappointments that can ensue- that wound offers a place for the light to enter as Rumi declared. If we choose it.

Art is my resiliency, always has been as long as I can remember. I bow to its mystery, grateful for how it soothes me, saves me.

Purna Hridaya Mudra

The Poet’s Broken Heart

“Your heart is like an aperture,”
says the confident clinician I have hired
to help me make sense out of my pain.

I consider this as I stare
at the charred heartmeat
I have unpacked from a wicker picnic basket,
presented on a delicate china plate,
an embroidered linen napkin folded neatly in my lap,
heavy silver utensils in hand,                                                                    
            in preparation for cannibalizing
            my own demise.

“One can learn to open it to varying degrees,” she claims,
“You can close it to protect yourself.”
I imagine how things might have been different
if I had known this
            before I took this once beating organ
            and proceeded to gradually filet it,
            throw it willingly on a grill,
but not just any grill—
the most cryptic and deceptive one,
the one most likely to start out with mild heat,
the kind of heat like early summer sun on my bare shoulders,
that feel good warmth that seems benevolent,
            inspires juices to drip onto coals,
            seductively stimulating them
so that I hardly noticed the fact that
I was burning.

Yet I never pulled back, even when the fat dripped,
flaming that intensity,
even when I realized that yes, I am choosing
to be seared alive,
have lost my preservation instinct—
the one rational people, like this therapist,
use to shelter their tenderness in the face of annihilation.

But not my poet’s heart.
Instead I opened the aperture all the way,
despite the blisters, the smell of feverish flesh,
let any discernment about safety
disappear into flames.
And now I sit, this overcooked mess on a plate—
and the tears come, tears of disbelief,
that I can love so deeply,
not because I am a saint,
because this is what it takes
to prepare a poem in a wounded world like ours:

I didn’t open myself so wide
only because I loved you.
That part is irrelevant.
I did it for my own healing,
I was hunting for these words,
now tucked secretly inside me.
And at the end of the therapy hour,
I pack up this picnic of my own undoing
and tonight

            when the moon is full,
            I will walk into the desert,
            find a certain place on red earth
where the moonlight is lace and ethereal,
will nurse my own wounds,
take this overworked cardiac steak
in my bare hands,
lift it so that moonlight bites
and stars alight on scorched surfaces,
and the words will pour forth from me,
because by the sheer will of my art
I will be raw again.

-Renee Podunovich, 2/14/19 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Blossoms for the River: Poems for the Brave of Heart

Blossoms for the River
photo by Renee Podunovich

Feeding Blossoms to the River

Greys, blues, hues, clouds
and shadows of clouds on rims exposed,
            not black and white,
not that defined:  clarity is for fools
not for pale, flowering plums—
            who realize, it could still freeze
            any night now.
Things always work out, I was always told.
sometimes they don’t:
            this plum tree in all its yearning,
            the passionate pink of its super bloom,
could be met with a knife of ice,
and while the flooding of river is kept in check
by continued cool nights and barely warming days,
the tenderhearted, who show their delicacy freely,
suffer in a world of ever-extremes
and unpredictable forces.

            I keep finding ways
            to turn disappointments into
            cherry blossoms, have felt I must.
This time, I broke open far too wide,
past the point of ever retracting
to the simple safety of a bud.
If I die of exposure — c'est la vie!
And if my beautiful plum petals
should meet that freeze,
I will wake tomorrow to see them
wet and faded, their refinement and cadence
            now brown and wilting.
No matter what, I will, myself, take handfuls
            of living or dead flowers to the river
(though I can’t stand to lose one more thing)
will offer their tenderness
to the imminent flood — her rush
is another lesson,
            and nothing exist outside the flowing
            uncertainty of this life.

She carries in her fullness
the things ready to be uprooted and washed away,
empty space in the banks fills with wet mud,
leaving a blank canvas — in my grief,
I don’t even care what will take hold there,
have no expectations of her,
just listen to the wordlessness
of her audacious water, brown and choppy,
momentum a magic inside her liquid muscles,
her waves slap at my feet, sharp the ice-cold stings skin,
sun warms stone where I ruminate,
            witnessing change,
            attempting to be the unknown,
            rather than afraid of it.                   

-Renee Podunovich, 2019
Dolores River, Spring 2019
photo by Renee Podunovich