Award Winners

Robert H. Winner Memorial Award - 2012

Lise Goett

Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl

                                                               —after Whistler

But for this,
the power of the girl's virginity—

her chasuble with its intimations of untainted white—
there is no angel of annunciation.

A single stem of loosestrife dangles from her distaff hand,
the bouquet's other flowers having fallen to the floor.

She stands upon the body of a bear,
seeming to float above it,

never touching what decomposes,
her slipper striking its head like the foot of the Mother of God.

No intimation of the closeness of a Master's breath,
yet the accoutrements of Presence are felt, if not depicted,

a universe at hand as yet unseen,
the fulcrum of some event about to tip in her direction:

her demeanor a village calm before a devastation,
before the riders arrive with their polished mounts and handsome guns.

And so that some history of the Master's empire may be played out in her,
she says, Let it be done to me,

pinioned as she is in this bridled order
as amber mortifies the fly,

so that when we compare the vibrant, sherry-colored,
glass-bead eyes of the beast

to hers, we begin to apprehend a symphony in white
as transformative as the torrent of a blizzard

and as coldly alluring
and all that it has muted and all that it has drowned out

and wonder, between the girl and the bear,
which the corpse and which the trophy.

* * *

First published in Western Humanities Review.

Toi Derricotte on Lise Goett

These bold poems by Lise Goett, so exquisitely wrought, find their subject in art, history, religion, and day-to-day life, focusing on the tense line between vulnerability and power. Hers is a relentlessly questioning mind, willing to assume and to reflect complicated realities. This is dangerous art, as serious as a heart attack, unsparing mostly of the poet herself, and as intensely rewarding as it is unsettling.

In "Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl," Ms. Goett takes another look at a painting by Whistler. The girl in the painting, young, virginal, is caught in a moment just before her life will tip entirely in another direction. The poet is reminded of Mary at the Annunciation. She thinks of the moment of glory when the Virgin accepts. But she also thinks of "a village calm before a devastation, / before the riders arrive with their polished mounts and handsome guns." The painting is "as transformative as the torrent of a blizzard/and as coldly alluring," and, like a blizzard, it has silenced any hint of the real struggle beneath.

Ms. Goett's poems aim to bring back, by the strength of dramatic narrative and "incarnadine," "sable-throated" and "blood garneted" images, the felt, the visceral knowledge. However, the clear intelligence and imagination of these poems make them as much homage to what they question, as they are an act of resistance.