October 24, 2022
January 25, 2022
A few weeks ago I received an email from the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) that an occasional poem I wrote for the Emma Lazarus Project: Poetry Contest was the first of two finalists, along with a winner. I was most delighted due to the fact that my poem "Dear American Lady" will be archived with Emma Lazarus' original sonnet "The New Colossus."
In her acceptance email with the AJHS, Manager of Programs & Operations Rebeca Miller wrote, " Our judges had an incredibly tough time choosing from hundreds of incredible entries made from across the country. Only two finalists were selected for each category, and in honor of this accomplishment we have posted your poem on the AJHS website in our Poetry Gallery...[and] your poem will be placed next to the work of Emma Lazarus in the AJHS archive to be appreciated for generations to come." (italics mine)
I have to say those are pretty stellar digs for my poem to be archived with "The New Colossus."
And coming on the heels of my intentionally taking a break from writing/publishing the whole of 2021.
As defined by the Poetry Foundation, an occasional poem is one written to "describe or comment on a particular event...," and generally not considered the most pleasurable of endeavors to execute, as the subject matter is handed to a poet on a prescribed platter and while not distinctly uttered, a party line is courteously insinuated. That said, "I acknowledge" the latter half of the last line of "DAL" is a party line. I felt the need to wrap it up, and I was sorely limited to 14 lines, a truncation of my natural narrative poetic voice.
|Poet Lynn Melnick|
As it happens, the brilliantly soulful and accomplished poet, Lynn Melnick, was teaching a series of poetry workshops via Zoom about the Statue of Liberty this past fall for the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS). Lynn is also a friend of mine, and I was happy about three things: I would actually get to see her again (think Covid-culture), chatting, smiling, teaching, sitting at her now-famous perch window overlooking a Brooklyn avenue; she taught poetry workshops at Columbia so I was thinking, hey, let me get a listen up at what those ivy students are privy to; and what!, dealmaker! - all the workshops were free. The more I frequented Lynn's workshops, which were not many occasions but enough to warrant a serious quandary for me: Lynn had obviously prepared these polished, chock-full sessions filled with insight into the motivations of Lazarus, Jewish history at the time of the construction of the Statue/writing of "The Great Colossus," the obvious rifts in "the times" between then and now, poetic themes using contemporary poetry and the Lazarus poem, and the bigger draw of the contest the workshops were propelling toward. I knew I had to enter the contest.
I am glad that I did and that I wrote the poem I personally felt. This is an image of what was once a small green tree sapling. The Originals: Early Native Americans would bend these little saplings in dense forests to assist them in "recording" their routes to and from their journeys. If you happen upon them in your travels, they are considered rare good fortune.
|Native American Route Marker from Tree Sapling|
Many people are aware that poet Emma Lazarus wrote the famous sonnet "The New Colossus" in 1883 about the Statue of Liberty. Very few people, I am guessing, know that Emma Lazarus was Jewish. I did not know this. I was quite surprised at this fact. I am constantly surprised, as a half-Jewish woman, how little Jewish people are celebrated for their vast and myriad gifts. I want to see that rectified.
By Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow
We acknowledge. Beneath the sun-spoked diadem
Encircling your celebrated head these two centuries plus,
You remain marvelously fair. Neither the heavy torch
Nor the massive, dated tablet have felled you. Still you hospitably
Offer greeting. Once you were a foreigner. Here is home where
Originals thrived. They toiled and feasted upon this land,
Trod many-hued dirt paths to reach five bejeweled
Great lakes, deciphered bird calls from bird cries,
Studiously bent tree saplings into route markers that stand
Today immense in the forests. To clear and cleanse the land
Fire was mastered. Reluctantly they gave way for others.
They continue to forge on. With iron muscle and copper skin
Across pitching cold waters you came shipped.
Your relations courted an ocean liner’s sterling upper decks
Expectant of fertile country. Three decks below in dank wishful
Steerage, a stew of languages sung out for ground that would
Grant trust. From cargo ships, by haunted hull despicable,
Multitudes in shackled chains. Yet, for all, their blood, their kinfolk, their
successors onward forge. All who witnessed the boats sail in long ago,
And sail in still. Under your golden flame, the promise ever cresting.
2021 Archival Finalist – Emma Lazarus Contest
American Jewish Historical Society