"I love poetry, I love young people, and I love when they combine." With these words, Marin County Poet Laureate CB Follett opened the Awards Ceremony for Marin Poetry Center's 22nd Annual High School Poetry Contest held in Mill Valley on Thursday, April 27. A standing-room only audience turned out to honor the 36 finalists, including three Honorable Mentions and a first-, second- and third-place winner, all published in the annual anthology.
Submissions have increased tenfold since 72 poems were entered in 1989, the year the contest was founded by Marin Poetry Center members Jackie Kudler, Rosalee Moore and Bob Oliver. Thanks to the efforts of MPC volunteers working over two decades' time with local high school teachers, the contest has thrived and grown, this year generating 700 entries from high school students living all over Marin County. Three rounds of blind judging yielded 60 poems from which Follett picked the finalists and winners.
At the ceremony, Follett introduced 24 students who treated the audience to a wide range of free verse, beat, formal, rhymed and unrhymed, metered and unmetered poems. A coaching session by Joel Eis of Rebound Books paid off in polished performances delivered with passion, energy and confidence. The program wound down with readings by Honorable Mention recipients Brooke Watkins, Emma Cormia, and Travis Thayer and closed with the three highest-ranked poems. Third-place winner Leah Rosenbaum (The Branson School) read her imagistic and lyrical "Balloons," followed by second-place winner Sarah Christenson (also of Branson) whose "After the Storm" skillfully and gracefully executed the sonnet form. Winner Ben Judkins (Drake High School) closed with "Plastic," a raw, Ginsberg-ian rant and powerful indictment of technology, homophobia, and popular culture. Judkins used to see himself primarily as an athlete, his mother says, "but now, his inner artist is coming out." He can be heard reading at bay area slams sponsored by Youth Speaks, http://youthspeaks.org/voice>
"Poetry makes us a community," Follett said, urging the students "to keep at it for the rest of your lives" and adding "that goes for the rest of us, too." Copies of the anthology will be available for $5.00 at MPC's Third Thursday Poetry Series Readings at Falkirk Cultural Center. For more information about MPC , the contest, or other programs sponsored by the Marin Poet Laureate, visit
Gratitude is due to the many volunteers without whom this event would not have been possible, too numerous to name, but special thanks to CB Follett for judging and also emceeing the event, MPC members who screened the entries, Gaby Rilleau and her army of kitchen helpers for the usual dazzling array of decorations and refreshments, Elaine James for the lovely flowers arrangements; and for MPC volunteers who helped with the anthology, staffed tables, and took photos at the event and finally, High School Poetry Contest Chair Barbara Martin for the whole wonderful shebang!
by Ben Judkins, Sir Francis Drake
First Place 2011 MPC High School Poetry Contest
I cringe at the thought of cloned civilization, radioactive waves
Plastic surgery, Plastic in general
the world is a six-pack plastic wrap with huge fake boobs and a solidified nose
and a 50-dollar haircut and a 20-dollar bottle of gel
and still we're choking on our own brilliance
I'll puke for days to rid myself of these toxic fumes of empty postconsumer
Kick me out of your fucking parties I'd rather circle-jerk on the 8th green
with three other faggots in my red plasmic jump suit
sipping classy wine from kiddy cups and shooting bottle rockets across
thinking about Harvard and talking about boners we had in 6th grade
and salvage the darkness with a pair of plastic night-vision goggles
his crazy grandma bought from an infomercial
so drink your Budweisers and fuck your Lady Gagas with Plastic words
and slurred laughter
and tell me how drunk you are because I really care and I used to have
But I miss out on weekends now because I don't drive drunk
and can't take handle pulls of piss
in random bathrooms with people who might be my friends
taking pictures of teenage alcoholics proud of their chugs
I'd be proud too, I haven't been drunk in months and I can't wait
But I don't hang out with the right people or go to the right parties
because HJ's cost a whopping $15 when I can pleasure myself for free
late at night with Lubriderm, a box of tissues
and the most addictively Plastic market of endless internet porn
archived straight to my desires and sexual fantasies
I'm a fucking pervert; I disgust myself
when I have to turn down the volume to a mere trickle and give in to
my habitual hormones
it's degrading but amazing; in the moment I'm fucking her for real
my cerebral instinct has been falsified by Plastic pattern
so go fuck yourself technology, swallow your cosmic cum
You made me feel guilty, you honestly told me I was gay in a box of
pixilated plastic shit
you called him a faggot and set up a web cam
to prove to yourself you were homophobic
and you didn't feel bad until he jumped the George Washington Bridge
you pathetic Plastic fuck
We blame the industry with ignorance but we still consume and consume
the world is the cigarettes we're smoking full of smoldering illiterate toxins
and black clouds are rising around our cancerous fingertips; but it's
not our fault, right?
So we point those fingers until the car door slams shut and blood is drawn
then maybe one of us will begin to appreciate the magnitude
of a schizophrenic Lovin' Spoonful impersonation telling you quite simply
with the deliverance of Jack Kerouac
The long shadows of arctic winter had stubbed their toes on spring's budding alder. Stepping back to foreshorten their stride the emerging pussy willows spent decreasing amounts of time shivering in the retreating shadows of the season. I was coming out, too. Harbored in the daylight basement house with my bullying brother and the chronic tension between my passive mother and critical father all winter, had left me raw for something alive and gentle. So at seven I wrote my first poem, which my mother submitted to the local Anchorage paper. They published it.
"Pussy willows, come to my side,
Come and be my slave.
Touch me with your little soft hands,
And I will let you go."
As I got older the softness I sought was in camping in the primordial wilderness that ranged for hundreds of miles around me. Moss ten inches thick made a bed under my tent that will never be met again or forgotten. At ten years old I found myself having ears for nature that I had turned off to my family. The sound of migrating swans, geese, ducks and the songbirds that frequented our suet feeders developed as my truer vocabulary. This was a language I had ears for. The distant scrunch of a moose penetrating the thick skin of wind blown snow a mile away amplified by air so cold and dense it was afraid to move for fear it would shatter. The rustle of snow slipping off spruce branches. The plush gurgle of a swollen stream sliding over the backs of Dolly Varden trout and Chinook salmon. Wind waltzing with autumn-ambered sequined birches. Boar tides ripping at the alluvial mud shoreline, turning the water a liquid pewter that played with the shy light of the far north.
Sitting in class at grade school coveting my desk at the window, I would secretly track the movement of things outside and imagine the sound they made. I knew them all. And my secret remained mine, only coming out in the sounds of words carved out on the page. Words giving voice to the world I lived in.
As I grew older, my urge to vanish deeper into the wilderness intensified. There were times as a young man I was confident that, having departed from any trail in the most irrational direction conceivable, I had set foot where no human ever had. There would be nothing in the terrain that would draw a person there. No hunter, no training Army platoon, no Fish and Game warden, hiker or woodsman. Not ever. Places that had not even been mapped yet. Places with an autonomy so free of civilization that it didn't even know they existed, much less where they were. Places that no one would have ever thought to search for my remains had I never returned. Places rich with a freedom that lives and seethes on the face of absolute primordial landscapes. Places that resisted detection by any other senses other than my own primordial nature.
The frequenting of this experience was a solitary exploit that developed a need for me as witness to the unrealized language lurking deep beneath the familiar; the mapped and over traveled terrain of Shakespeare, Cervantes, Yeats, Muir. A kind of greed for the toil of bushwhacking into uncharted territory began to squeeze me out of the world of others into the private and possessive realm of its mystique.
Having usurped identification with my family, I fell for nature's seduction. And the poetry that flowed clawed at the membrane of a predictable world lost in the pride of its own domesticated image. Poetry became my sarcasm of a world that needed to bleed and every cut in its fair skin I could interrogate out of it, I would. The world was my captive and I would make it beg for mercy. The original moment of the poetic was invulnerable to the familiar's betrayal of originality. I was a revolutionary and I was out to change known language.
It is only madness if you are on the outside, but from the inside, it is a world complete with royalty and industry and a peaceful prosperity. When the words come it is a kind of coronation with ritual and fanfare and renewal all blended into one wild gesture of carving meaning out into space with an instinctive rush of unfettered, freefall risk. Poetry is where language discovers itself. And the page is like a wild shore after a storm filled with the random beauty of flotsam and jetsom disarranged in perfect harmony just lying there to be taken in, but not taken, by inquisitive souls. Souls committed to a pact to never rearrange, correct or plunder the treasure, but only to admire it for the mysteries that it is evidence of.
Poetry is the moss beneath our feet, the gathering and release of the blizzard, the migration of starving ungulates, the clamoring horns of geese forming letters in the sky pointing the way. It is wild, unmappable, bursting out of our bodies with such force that its seizures never allow one the balance and coordination of the domesticated language that we call education, literacy, good form. It pursues us, terrified through the undergrowth, lost and fleeing, entangled in the bracken of our own clothing. To survive, we must make our selves naked, lose all our sense of home and safety, burn our feet upon its lava, tear our skin on its thorns, wear its crown of fire and feathers for no one to see but the image of ourselves in the perfect mirror of its pure and divine waters. Poetry is a madness we find ourselves in when we are finally remembering where we came from and who we are: The flesh of the prey as it is being devoured by the predator when predator and prey finally become infolded as one.
Eugene Ruggles had an intensely expressive gift for opening his mind to vivid imagery and apt metaphor. It's a powerful, hazardous gift, a rapture that could be deadly and certainly led in his case to misjudgments and occasional ruin. It was as if he made and lost himself in a single gesture, like a waterfall. It is no accident that water(s) occurs twenty times in The Lifeguard in the Snow, fifty-eight times if we include cognates like river, sea, and rain. The place that holds the water even as it falls is a pair of cupped hands, making Ruggles the Poet of Hands. Though he is often described as a poet of the heart, but in a closer look, he becomes the Poet of Hands, in a contest with hearts, Ruggles' hands (mentioned thirty-three times) win hands down. Even in poems that do not explicitly mention hands, their gestures are integral to the poem, as in "A Simple One," in which the poet imagines lying in his coffin beneath the ground "looking up at a wooden sky/with the rest of the immigrants/my friends the roots//waving-" .
Ruggles finds and expresses his meanings in the simplest physical gestures, often though not always involving hands. The gestures of kneeling, folding, covering, guarding, protecting, occur again and again in Ruggles' poems. In "Beginning Again as Morning," we are instructed:
Kneel down with the insects
where the sea has been folding
a scarf for you,
open her leaves of water. 
Ruggles' presence in his own body, and his awareness of it is palpable in almost every one of the thirty poems in the remarkable Part I of The Lifeguard in the Snow.
Stretching as far as I can
As though to hear through my forehead
Like a snake come down to drink
My mouth pressed against the weeds
[5, A Poem of Weeds]
This presence extends to the elements in physical contact with him, the weather, the land, the quality of light, the time of day, seasonal effects:
She has placed the wind about me
like a shirt without a seam,
and told me that the words
like men, should have weather in them.
[14, The White Goddess]
As with powerful actors like Richard Burton, Alec Guinness, or Anthony Hopkins, it doesn't matter so much what is said. Alec Guinness is eloquent by his very presence. A person can speak with his entire physical body and mind. So Ruggles writes in the title poem of The Lifeguard in the Snow:
Watching those young children all last summer
Has folded this black sunburn through my chest-
A small girl water carved out of my arms forever. 
It is the way we speak to ourselves, in incomplete sentences, unmindful of grammar, when we feel something deeply.
Ruggles' descriptions of the body are fresh, original. An old man's arms are "thin as oars/buried in the sliding daylight" . A man's "dark face" is "packed with scars" . The lover embraces the beloved, his "arms like the rain about [her]" . Ruggles' understanding of the world is derives from his physical body, his very words brushing "against/the ancient drawings on the walls/of the mouth . In "Love I Have Kept You Poor," the lover withdraws "this last breath/from the bank of your thigh" . Ruggles' bodies are part of a seamless fabric of living things. A logging foreman sleeps alone in the woods where, "after a few hours of sleep/there are small movements in the dark/hollow where he has lain,/as when you roll back an old log/in the fields" .
Of the twenty-nine poems in Part I of The Lifeguard, all but the final poem have at least a few, often several, of the cognates for weather--water, rain, snow, wind, light (or sunlight), and various cognates for the physical body--body (bodies), hand, thigh, arms, bones, earth. In The Lifeguard as a whole, body and its cognates-bones, heart, eyes, fingers, shoulders, stomach, ankle, waist, skin, thighs, chest, face, arms, hair, blood, and especially hands, occur an astounding 263 times.
John Updike, a far luckier man than the working-class, last-of-a-gaggle-of-kids Ruggles, once famously described a television in one of his novels as a "warm fire." For Ruggles, in "Lines from an Alcoholic Ward," the television becomes, more vigorously, a raging stove into which the poet "shovel[s] [his]. . . share of coal" . The external world is not "out there," it is fully incorporated by the experiencing, perceiving body. Ideas are in things, and specifically in the human body, the poet's body: "I stand in my casket light and piss/through it" [63, "Deciding to Run for Office"). Describing the coming of night in the alcoholic ward, the poet writes:
Now there's only the moon.
A full November moon. Nailed
In the corner of a barred window
And my hand a yard turning dark.
[48, "Lines from an Alcoholic Ward"]
The poor in prayer are
ecstatic as the fingers of an old baker
of loaves who is brushing
the last flour from his apron.
[64, "From the Coats of the Poor"]
In other poems, Ruggles sometimes stumbles, losing control of his image. In "The Poor Man moves through Washington, D.C.--Spring 1968" (one imagines at an anti-Vietnam war rally), the poet's "vision [is] shaded by the scar tissue/above his heart. And he is bringing/a load of firewood in his arms./These are the different logs of his rage." In this, and in the Earth Day poems in The Lifeguard in the Snow, written in 1973 and comprising the middle section of Lifeguard, he strains too much for a political statement. "Ending War," for example, advises
Chain all pregnant women together
to form a circle in every town
and aim rifles at their stomachs.
Do not let the women know
the rifles are empty.
. . . .
Let every stomach hear the clock
from each rifle and then
release your woman 
In this poem and some others, Ruggles' intellect, his ideas, do not harmonize with his own physical embodiment. But even in the apolitical poem "Back Inside the Crowd," he writes,
The two legs of the heart are longer
Through men and women than I ever realized. .
I am not sure what to make of this. Ruggles seems to lose his sea legs; ashore, he cannot quite make his way. There are remarkable poems in both Spending the Sun and Enough, the two unpublished manuscripts--"The Animal That Waits Beneath Me," "Love's Migration," "The Room," "Small Morning Prayer," "The Unemployed Automobile Workers of Detroit," "Homeless." But some of the power is gone; the physical vigor of the earlier poems wanes all too often to the kinds of spiritual, political, emotional searching common to much of contemporary poetry since Lowell's Life Studies half a century ago.
Ruggles can still astound, even as he gropes for subject matter, once he returns to his core themes. "Amputee" is one of the later, unpublished poems we are blessed to have in this new volume. I quote it in full:
I feel strongest alone.
Removed, late at night.
The fire burning down
beneath my ankles,
touching nothing I've known
I listen to the dark
healing between us.
When it has finished
covering the last opening,
where the skin belongs,
I empty into sleep,
into many. A crutch, the oar
of a pencil tied in my hand
with rope, growing back
toward all of you. 
In "Amputee," Ruggles returns to the archetypal image at the heart of "The Lifeguard in the Snow," the collection nominated for the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in 1977 when the poet was thirty-eight years old. In the unforgettable title poem of that collection from which I quoted at the beginning of this essay, the poet narrator returns in winter to the swimming hole where he was the lifeguard on duty when "a small girl water [was] carved out of [his] arms forever." An era of history can leave its signature in the emotional lives of a generation. In the times of Eugene Ruggles, with the Vietnam War still a foul taste in the mouth, and when to be a man was not to be a warrior, but still to guard and protect, the failure to do so could mark a life, a body of work, and perhaps an era, as well.
Zara Raab's most recent book is The Book of Gretel. Swimming the Eel is due out later this year. Her work appears in West Branch, Arts & Letters, Nimrod, The Dark Horse and Spoon River Poetry Review, with poems scheduled to appear in Evansville Review and River Styx. Her literary reviews and essays appear in Redwood Coast Review, Poetry Flash, Rattle on-line, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Colorado Review and elsewhere. She lives in Berkeley, California.
MPC Board Positions Available
Marin Poetry Center's board is made up entirely of upaid, overworked volunteers.
We are currently looking to fill one board position:
We're a great group, and would welcome the help. Payment in satisfaction.
If you are interested in joining us, please contact:
High School Poetry
Needs assistance. Possible duties include
updating the teacher data base, contacting members, scheduling workshops in the
schools, and assisting with the annual high school poetry anthology and contest.
One person need not be responsible for all the above tasks. Please contact
Barbara Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- a new book of poetry by Angelika Quirk
As a child, Angelika Quirk experienced the bombed-out landscape of World War II Hamburg, Germany. At night, she would huddle with her family members in the basement waiting for the constant Allied bombing runs to end and for her apartment building to stop shaking. Her first memory as a child was seeing Hamburg burn to the ground. Her new book of poetry, "After Sirens," comes to terms with her unique war experience.
College of Marin poetry instructor Thomas Centolella, who wrote Angelika Quirk's introduction, adds:
"From our 21st century American vantage point, it is easy to look back on the Second World War and place blame for its unparalleled devastation squarely on the German people and their megalomaniacal leader. What is not so easy is to consider those German citizens who were trapped without recourse by the machinations of the Third Reich, who were not enthralled by Adolf Hitler but who could do little more than survive his evil dream of empire."
Copies of her book "After Sirens" are available at Book Passage, Rebound Bookstore or by requesting a book via e-mail:
Marin Poetry Center Monthly Reading Series
Third Thursdays @ 7:30 pm (unless otherwise noted)
Falkirk Cultural Center, 1408 Mission St. at E, San Rafael
Willis and Tony Barnstone
Marin Poetry Center Anthology Reading
MPC Annual Holiday Party and Read Around
For more information, visit www.marinpoetrycenter.org
or email Becky Foust or Cathy Shea at email@example.com
MPC Readers: Do you have a favorite poet? Maybe a secret favorite poet? We would like to
hear about that poet you believe everybody must read! Please introduce us to a poet, or remind
us why we must seek out or rediscover a certain poet. Please send your thoughts and inspirations
Open Mic/Poetry Critique at Falkirk Cultural Center, on the fourth Thursday of
each month (except Dec.), starting at 7pm. Bring ten copies of your poem, no more than
one page in length. This event is free, and is open to everyone.
1408 Mission Street, San Rafael.
Marin Poetry Center Bookgroup meets at 7pm the second Wednesday of each month, rotating
among living rooms of participants.
For more information contact Roy Mash:
Poetry Farm is a monthly reading series held at Dr. Insomnia's Cafe in
Novato. This is a well-attended and high-spirited reading series now in its fifth year.
We feature one published author each month. If you would like to be
considered for our "Featured Farmer" spot, please send an email describing
your work to Kirsten@Neff.Org. Otherwise, come
join the audience or sign up for open mic.
Second Mondays, 7pm,
Dr. Insomnia's Cafe on the corner of Grant and Reichert in Novato.
Monday, June 13, 7pm, the featured reader will be Terri Glass.
Sunset Poetry By The Bay
, has moved to the Second Wednesday
of the month.
Located at: Studio 333, 333 Caledonia Street, Sausalito.
Wednesday, July 13 features Q.R. Hand, Zack Haber , Kirsten Jones Neff.
For informations, see:
Marin Poetry Center Blog is now online. Just click on the Blog! tab of the MPC website.
MPC members can now upload their own blog posts, receive comments, and comment on the posts of others.
An easy way to start is to send in a poem or two for the 'Admired Poems' section of the new MPC blog.
These would be poems by someone else that you particularly admire or that have meant a lot to you or
that you think of as overlooked. Send poems or blog postings to
Comments can be made on the blog itself.
MPC Mailing List: If you would like to be included in the Marin Poetry Center
mailing-list events notification, please contact
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MPC values your input! Comment, dream out loud, stimulate, unveil —
this is YOUR newsletter, so use it! Please!
MARIN POETRY CENTER
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