by Natasha Bershadsky: 2022 judge, Poetry and Publishers’ Awards
The poetry pamphlets descended on my apartment in the fall like a host of varied birds, with all the attending delight and confusion. I was made physically happy by the array of titles and covers in different styles; and wondered at the thought of linked lives around each pamphlet: the poets with all their radiating connections of memories and associations, but also editors, artists, publishers, printers. Reading the pamphlets — living amid these fluttering ba-birds — felt like a crash course on the nature of poetry. I kept thinking how all the things that do not quite fit into the everyday, the rage, the joy, the confusion, the sorrow, find their place in poetry; how necessary poetry is, and how fundamentally unjudgeable it is. There is in it a space for everything: the birds sang of old age, cancer, dementia, loss, of survival and healing, of losing and finding oneself, of birth and ghosts. They kept leading a heated conversation with the divine and waiting for its response; and I thought I could listen to each voice for a very long time. Yet, strangely, it was also clear almost right away when a particular pamphlet had more of something which I can try to describe as energy packed into poetry’s lines. That quality is often apparent even before you know the poem’s theme or work out its images: it is as if the lines flashed a “high voltage” sign, making me follow the words more raptly, more consciously. There is something peculiarly suprapersonal to this poetic power: in the subsequent discussions with other judges, I am struck by how palpable that quality is to all of us.