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The Bordighera Poetry Prize

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Contemporary Italian American Writing

Winner of the 2003 Bordighera Poetry Prize:
Sponsored by the Sonia Raiziss-Giop Foundation

Gerry LaFemina for The Parakeets of Brooklyn

1st Runner-up is Paola Corso for Oxygen for Two

Click to: Awards Ceremony, November 17, 2005

Brooklyn 1972 | My Medusa | Coda: The Parakeets Of Brooklyn

We are happy to announce that Gerry La Femina is winner of the 2003 Bordighera Poetry Prize sponsored by the Sonia Raiziss-Giop Foundation. Gerry LaFemina's books include Shattered Hours: Poems 1988-94 (Red Dancefloor Press, Lancaster, CA), Graffiti Heart (winner of the 2001 Anthony Piccione/MAMMOTH Books Poetry Prize; MAMMOTH Books, DuBois, PA), and The Window Facing Winter (2004, New Issues Press, Kalamazoo, MI), as well as a number of chapbooks. His poems, stories and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies including American Poetry: The Next Generation, Sudden Stories, and New Poems from the Third Coast. He is co-editor, with Daniel Crocker, of Poetry 30: an anthology of poets in their thirties (MAMMOTH Books). Born in Brooklyn and raised in three of New York's five boroughs, he lived in Michigan for many years where he edited the journal Controlled Burn and still directs the Controlled Burn Seminar for Young Writers. Currently, he is a Guest Professor of Writing at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan and serves on the Board of Directors of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP).

About Gerry LaFemina's work, distinguished judge, Donna Masini wrote: "What draws me to Gerry La Femina's poems is how much of the world they contain: Brooklyn streets, racetracks, Vietnam, a boy's imagined transgressions, family dramas. What is compelling is the tension between the speakers' urge to understand and the mystery that resists explanation; the partial understandings, the misunderstandings of childhood. Read the sample poems which follow here, "Brooklyn 1972" and "The Sound the Body Makes," and listen to how these poems search as they attempt to tease out meaning. Or maybe...or maybe is what I hear pulsing under the lines. In their plain, simple diction they are firmly grounded in the everyday. Public and private collide, intersect, as events and images become more difficult to reconcile, to describe. LaFemina’s poems ripple with erotic desire, the budding sexuality of young boys, the lure of the nape hidden under a woman's hair, the interiority of the boy who'd slid into the sleeve of the dark suit left by his father. It's a rich world, the world of The Parakeets of Brooklyn. It's a gritty and tender gamble."

Elisa Biagini, poet of Florence, was commissioned to translate LaFemina’s winning book. The poet Gerry La Feminia and his commissioned translator received $1,000 each, presented at an awards ceremony, reading, and reception at Poets House at 72 Spring Street in New York City on March 11th, 2004.

The Bordighera Poetry Prize was founded by Daniela Gioseffi and Alfredo dePalchi, a trustee of The Sonia Raiziss-Giop Foundation, in 1997. Former winners and translators have been: Lewis Turco for A Book of Fears, translated by Joseph Alessio; Joe Salerno for The Tulip Tree, translated by Emanuel diPasquale; Luisa Rossini Villani for Running Away from Russia translated by Luigi Fontanella; Stephen Massimilla for Forty Floors from Yesterday translated by Luigi Bonaffini; and Jane Tassi for And Song Song Songlessness, translated by Ned Condini. Former distinguished poet judges have been: Felix Stefanile, W.S. Di Piero, and Dorothy Barresi. Each judge serves for a two-year term for an honorarium of $1,000. Guidelines for entry winners' and judges' work at: www.ItalianAmericanWriters.com/prize.html/

Sample poems from, The Parakeets of Brooklyn by Gerry La Femina follow:

Brooklyn, 1972

Outside: my brother with the older kids playing stickball
while our Jewish landlords kept Sabbath downstairs.


What I don't remember could fill volumes--
that's how our minds work. Someone said,
"The world is falling apart." It was my mother;


she meant the marriage, but I misunderstood.
                                                                                      Every day

the television news broadcast helicopters
like giant dragonflies, & trees-- wild, clown-haired palms--


on fire . . . . I didn't understand any of it:


not the names scrolling at the finish of the six o’clock news,
not the names priests asked us to pray for
in church, not my father returning,


an argument packed somewhere in his valise,
not why he or my mother would turn the TV suddenly


to Star Trek reruns: Kirk & company battling Klingons.
I thought I was watching war movies
like the ones I reenacted with green plastic men
in the grass between East 2nd Street & the sidewalk
as my brother tried to hit a Spaldeen ball beyond two sewer caps.


At the library where I was dropped off regularly
I told the librarian someone forgot to pull the flag all the way up
& I was hushed
                            or else I forget how she explained it, forget


if any of it was explicable.
But I remember watching the close-up of one brown girl weeping
right before my brother changed stations, remember
waking to my parents‚ voices-- hushed & frustrated.


How panicked I was


by the headlights of passing cars that yellowed my walls
briefly, because I believed,
for that moment, the yard was burning.

My Medusa

In the garden of my medusa, the sculptures of former lovers stand, some cracked, fingers missing, jeweleried with fissures and chips; others adorned with pigeon shit. The birds themselves rise when she approaches, when anyone approaches. In the right wind,


her hair seems to have a hundred minds of its own.


So much I've risked for this, and I'm lucky for my glasses, for how they reflect light so that I never see her straight. When I kiss her, I look askance; when we make love with such urgency-- remember, her other suitors have all gone cold by this time--I close my eyes; feel her hair beside my ears, the flicker of little tongues; and focus on the rub of bodies. I have robbed this moment from the gods, and for that I know I may be cursed.


I try to picture her domesticated--so 1960’s, in a plush robe before the mirror, brushing her locks tame.


In the morning I waken, desirous, long after dawn, alone, surrounded by the shed skins of numerous snakes.

Coda: the Parakeets of Brooklyn

So surprising really--the green & yellow of them
                 walking in grey snow
as in the distance, greyer pigeons coo


& rock their bodies. Like drag queens out
                 for a weekend
along the streets of Flatbush--these parakeets--


whole parishes of them, mimic the voices
                 of sparrows & starlings,
their bodies brilliant pulsings in winter light.


They push aside other birds by wire trash cans,
                 grasp crusts of weary bread,
then ascend to familial nests they've built like turbans


atop utility poles. Six or eight holes in each,
                 each for a pairing of parakeets
& the songs they sing to each other. I can't help but wonder


if any of them are descendants of the blue
                 birds we once kept
during that Brooklyn youth; the day they flew out


the window, leaving behind only a jot of white fluff
                 lying lifeless in the cage,
I imagine I cried but honestly, I can't recall.


Today, out visiting & back here for the first time
                 in years, it's startling
to see so many: their short bent beaks & proud bodies


streaking skyward. In an apartment window I see
                 a face, a small hand
pointing, trying to keep pace with first one,


then a second as they propel away from the Hassids
                 walking from shuls
who understand these birds are puffed up with a spark


of He-who-can't-be-named. Living fireworks,
                 they bellow & curse
imitating the voices of street traffic, which they've been taught


beside nearby classrooms. I couldn't help myself. I stopped there
                 amazed by the parakeets
of Brooklyn, their dizzying flights home


while around me, most people rushed toward their affairs:
                 the commerce going on
outside Indian restaurants & inside bodegas,


a congregation of cars rushing the damp streets, & a subway
                 rattling its tracks distantly,
as if they'd all gotten used to such flashy displays


the velocity of their celebration: those Argentinian birds
                 racing each other, rising
rising from the bumpers of parked cars & calling to follow.

_____________________________________________________________
Copyright © 2003 by Gerry LaFemina from his winning manuscript,
The Parakeets of Brooklyn, to be published by Bordighera Press, 2005

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