Our Deep Poetry Contest Winners & Volunteer of the Month

Updated: Mar 5


Congratulations to Paula Bonnell and Elizabeth Tomaino, our Deep Poetry Contest Winners

Our First place winner of the Deep Poetry Contest is Paula Bonnell with her poem, “We Prepare for the Eleusinian Mysteries,” and runner up is Elizabeth Tomanio with her poem, “Black Cherries.” Deep Poetry Contest in June. We asked for writers to share their deepest poems; heart, soul, mind. Whether it’s relationships, politics, beauty, or despair. Whether it makes us shout a Walt Whitman styled "barbaric yop," we asked to hear from you. And we had so many people send in great poetry. Thank you!


Paula Bonnell's poem has a story and so does her first encounter with poetry. With permission, we've posted the first few lines of the poem by Paula Bonnell:


We prepare for the Eleusinian Mysteries

On this day, we go out to the fields
differently. On other days we
are talking or laughing, singing,
moving together. Today, on our way
we say nothing, and as we near
the wheat, we separate, so
that each of us stands in a
part of this uncut field
surrounded by a stand of grain
each at the heart of goldenness...

Bonnell shared how the poem was inspired by an allusion in Edith Hamilton's 1942 book "Mythology." The Eleusinian mysteries were one of the most secret rites, a celebration of Demeter. Bonnell cites Hamilton's description:


'The chief part of the ceremony which took place in the temple has never been described. Those who beheld it were bound by a vow of silence and they kept it so well that we know only stray bits of what was done....One of the few pieces of information we have about them is that at a very solemn moment the worshipers were shown an ear of corn which had been reaped in silence.'  

Bonnell says that writing We prepare for the Eleusinian Mysteries began that same day she first read that passage. We are so glad her poem will appear in full in next year's poetry anthology "Night Forest" edited by Beth Gulley. And how did her poetry writing career begin? At fifteen Paula found a small blue book “The College Book of Verse" on her family bookshelf. She remembers it began with “Sumer is icumen in” and ended with poems by Wilfred Owen. She was hooked. Years later, her second book Airs & Voices was selected for a Ciardi publication prize by Mark Jarman, following her debut book, Message, and her two chapbooks Before the Alphabet and Tales Retold as well as a poem nominated for a 2020 Pushcart Prize. Her poems are widely published and upcoming in print and online journals and anthologies in the U.S. plus several in Canada, England, India, and Australia. She adds, "PEN/New England have been named as one of its Discovery writers and Garrison Keillor read my poem "Midwest" on The Writer's Almanac." Find more on www.paulabonnell.net



Elizabeth Tomanio is a Physical Therapist and poet. She writes poetry to understand the world better and herself in it. She reads her poetry at a local coffee shop with a group called Chapter & Verse in New Haven, CT. She won first place in the Love Tanka Contest sponsored by West Hartford Libraries with her tanka titled “What Is This?” and was accepted to the Summer 2020 issue of Please See Me for the theme Heroes with her poem titled “Reverse Transcription.” She reads her poetry at a local coffee shop with a group called Chapter & Verse in New Haven, CT.



Black Cherries


I bought black cherries

remembering

how she would say

"the body is a temple"

I was always so casual

and careless with adding

sweet and bitter tastes.

She knew better,

for wisdom ripens with age.

 

I recall the night I drove her home

to a neighborhood I deemed unsafe,

watched her proceed through the unlatched gate

up the sidewalk and stairs

in her long black skirt.

 

How had life gotten this way?

Who treated her well,

as she had unfailingly treated me—

offering either cherries or kiwi

when it was her only meal

scraping off half-eaten food

stuck to plates, steaming residue

seeping in as the dishes rinsed,

never receiving a break.

From her small portions, she offered

for my gain.

 

I think about who drives her home now,

how when I pulled away

her head remained high.

In line to buy the cherries,

I understood,

at the threshold of her door that night,

and all others before,

she had been looking after me.


What we love about this narrative poem is that the voice in the poem gains in compassion as the story travels to the present. We also love the imagery of fruit and the dichotomy of the fresh, the natural, and daylight contrasted with scenes of urban night, and steamy kitchens over dirty dishwater. It is unique to be able to prove that the poetic voice cares about the other characters who appear in a lyrical narrative. But to be able to show a compassionate heart emerging, to show a relationship of two coworkers and human concern in a contemporary setting is rare. Poets often try to flip the readers on their heads; to take the time of a poem to push the reader to find new insight. But what is so delightful here is the speaker in the poem being flipped on her head. Then the joy of the coolness of the fruit in several layers of meaning contrasted with those warmer but also invisible discoveries of the spirit.