Fields of Poetry: On Judging
by Manuela Pellegrino: 2021 judge, Poetry and Publishers’ Awards
I took the proposal to be part of the judging panel for the Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets as an opportunity to immerse myself in poetry: a wonderful gift! As an anthropologist who long silenced her own poetic drives, I longed to go on field-poetry, to take a poetic field-trip. Rosaldo’s words that poetic exploration resembles ethnographic inquiry kept echoing in my mind; what they share, he argues, is the process of discovery, where the “insight emerges from specifics more than from generalizations.” (2013: 105). So, I took my field to be poetry itself and I travelled – rather literally in my own living room – through hundreds of pamphlets, each poet an informant, each poem a story, each story a message. I also knew Ungaretti would tell me there is no poetry without a secret. So, I kept looking for secrets and along the way I kept track of my own process of discovery; many pamphlets indeed address issues I am drawn to/I feel close to – among them minorities’ and gender struggles, existential and linguistic displacement. I followed the many talented poets as they gave voice to a multitude of speaking personalities and writing sensibilities. Traveling through fields of poetry, I discovered that daring forms called out to me, uncomfortable ‘voices’ gently followed me with their material presence.
Poetry and I are not new companions, but almost silently it took its place in my life. Rather surprisingly, this happened through Griko, a minority language of Greek origins transmitted orally from generation to generation in the Southern Italian province of Lecce (Puglia) from where I originally hail. I have argued that locals’ longstanding and widespread practice of composing in Griko highlights the performative function of poetry and its contribution to preserving this language by enriching its material legacy. Yet, it is only recently that I have myself started using poetry specifically – that is, composing polyphonic poems in Griko – as a method of writing ethnographically about the past and present of this language. My field-poetry experience, enabled by the Michael Marks Awards, was therefore utterly inspiring and very rewarding. I am grateful to the other judges for the interesting/enlightening discussions during the judging process and I am thankful to the many talented poets/voices that entered the award. I will keep holding their secrets, as poetry unfolds them.