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Robert Frost Farm
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Center for New England Culture

Frost Farm Prize - Winning Poem

2016

James Najarian Wins 6th Annual Frost Farm Prize

Winner reads at Frost Farm June 17

 James Najarian image

May 16, 2016, DERRY, NH -- The Trustees of the Robert Frost Farm in Derry, NH, and the Hyla Brook Poets today announced that the winner of the 6th Annual Frost Farm Prize for metrical poetry is James Najarian of Auburndale, Mass., for his blank verse poem, "The Dark Ages."

The prize was judged by David J. Rothman, Director of Western State Colorado University’s Graduate Program in Creative Writing. Najarian receives $1,000, and publication in The Evansville Review. He will also be a featured reader at The Hyla Brook Reading Series at the Robert Frost Farm in Derry, NH, on Friday, June 17, 2016, 7:00pm. The reading kicks off the second annual Frost Farm Poetry Conference (June 17-19, 2016).

Commenting about this year’s winning poem, Rothman said, "'The Dark Ages' participates in what has become, over the last several decades, a recognizable sub-genre of the elegy, even if it is an elegy of death-in-life: the Alzheimer's poem. This poem differs from all others on this theme I have ever read, however, in its successful use of an extended metaphor, in which the poet implicitly compares the mother's loss of memory to the aftermath of the Roman departure from Britain. The poem's six stanzas of blank verse, each nine lines long, alternate starkly between painfully clear-eyed description of the mother's decline, and comparably evocative reimagining of the advent of ‘the dark ages,’ with the loss of wine and oil, the abandonment of towns, the vanishing of nails and so on. The result of such a strategy might have seemed predictable, but with an unsentimental eloquence and restraint that only make the unstated pain and loss that much more powerful, the poet never rhetorically asserts the connection between the alternating sections, but simply lets them stand and resonate with each other until the personal and the historical merge in ways that illuminate both. This is compelling, masterful work, not only technically adroit but also thematically fierce and focused, and emotionally profound: an intense yet also measured depiction of destruction and grief."

Rothman added, "With more than 600 entries, this year's submissions to the Frost Farm Prize for Metrical Poetry presented a tremendous range of subjects, themes, tones, styles and techniques. After spending many hours with them, my overwhelming impression is that hundreds upon hundreds of poets continue to care about craft.”

Najarian grew up on a goat farm near Kempton, Pennsylvania. He teaches nineteenth-century poetry and prose at Boston College, where he directs the PhD program in English and edits the scholarly journal Religion and the Arts. His poetry has been published in West Branch, Christianity and Literature, Tar River Poetry, Southern Poetry Review, The Literary Imagination, and other journals. He also published a scholarly monograph, Victorian Keats, with Palgrave Macmillan. His manuscript of poems, An Introduction to the Devout Life, has made finalist several times at volume contests, and is seeking a publisher.

The judge read all 646 anonymous entries and, in addition to selecting the winner, chose six poems for special recognition as Finalists and Honorable Mentions:

Finalists:

Honorable Mentions:


The Dark Ages
By James Najarian

I

For years, my mother shuttled from her garden

to the stove, from barn to sewing room to sons,

her life like an unopened work of history.

Then came the silences. Was she tired? Bored?

She hovered in her kitchen the whole day.

Skillets and glassware tumbled from her hands,

her face a cast of lead. Her garden shrank

to towering, weedy greens and wiry vines.

We did not plow it for the coming year.

II

Late Roman Britain had begun to turn

even before the soldiers were withdrawn.

With the seas unguarded, little was brought in.

Ale and lard replaced Rome’s wine and oil.

The towns dispersed, as townsfolk headed to

the countryside to try the earth. At first,

the city fathers decently tore down

deserted baths and temples. Villas crumbled.

Those who stayed grew barley in the ruins.

III

She had trouble walking, or rather starting

walking -- her feet seemed bolted to the ground,

the brain not ordering its provinces.

She spoke a rote “no, thank you”; rarely “yes.”

Her kingdom dwindled to a bed and toilet--

a quilt she planned still hanging from the wall,

bright calicoes once basted to white flannel,

seed-packets, knitting, quiet as offerings --

her life now archaeology around her.

IV

Eventually, Rome took its army home.

With Rome went every skill. The coarse pots made

in native kilns, declined, then disappeared.

Foundries halted, and with them nails vanished.

The people foundered barefoot in the mud

as shoes could not be made--or coffins either.

The dead were thrown directly in the ground.

Silt clogged the cities’ sewers. Canterbury

dwindled to a pasture, York a marsh.

V

In daylight she may keen for hours, unaware.

All night she shrieks, but does not hear her sounds.

She grips a toy she’s had since she was small,

a drowsy chimpanzee whose eyelids close.

Nurses have put her in a safe low bed;

half-buried in her sheets, she is a baby

lost in a little boat. She knows my name,

but wails, and can’t say why. At times I can

make out a single word: “no, no, no, no.”

VI

The towns and villages have emptied out.

We gather in our clans amid the dregs,

atop a hill-crest or a crumbled fort,

dwelling among the swine we kill each fall,

gorging because we cannot let them waste.

Our women scrounge for bits of bead and bronze.

They roast our gritty roots right in the fire,

or cook in cauldrons dug from ancient graves,

sepulchri: pots that once held human ashes.



About Frost Farm Poetry

Frost Farm Poetry’s mission is to support the writing and reading of poetry, especially metrical poetry. The Hyla Brook Poets started in 2008 as a monthly poetry workshop. In March 2009, the monthly Hyla Brook Reading Series launched with readings by emerging poets as well as luminaries such as Maxine Kumin, Sharon Olds and Richard Blanco. From there, the Frost Farm Poetry Prize for metrical poetry was introduced in 2010, with the Frost Farm Poetry Conference beginning in 2015.

For further information, email hylabrookpoets@gmail.com, or visit www.frostfarmpoetry.org or facebook.com/HylaBrookPoets or twitter.com/HylaBrookPoets.