Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Sunday, August 9, 2009

An Introduction of Robert Winner: "Premonition"

Yesterday morning as I visited the daily entry for August 8 at The Writer’s Almanac, Garrison Keillor’s web site, I noticed the day’s featured poem was “Passing the Spot,” written by an old friend, Robert Winner, and published in his posthumous collection, The Sanity of Earth and Grass (Tilbury House, 1994). I was reminded once more of Bob, an incredible individual whose compelling personality and extraordinary example influenced all who knew him.

My first meeting with Bob occurred while I was still a student with an initial interest in writing poetry, absorbing every book of poems I read and seeking to learn more about the craft of writing. During one semester when I wasn’t taking any creative writing course I decided to apply for admission into a poetry seminar at New York City’s famous 92nd Street Y in the Unterberg Poetry Center Writing Program. I was young, unpublished, and had barely written any poems at the time; therefore, I did not hold a high expectation for acceptance into the limited enrollment of the seminar. The competitive application process required submission of a manuscript portfolio, so I simply gathered all the poems I had into a folder and mailed them.

When I received a letter informing that I had been selected for the workshop seminar, I was pleasantly surprised. However, the letter also included a curious addendum instructing that the location for the class had been moved from the Y to a private apartment where one of my future classmates lived. The letter explained that a workshop participant, Robert Winner, was a quadriplegic, and he hoped others wouldn’t mind meeting at his nearby home rather than at the 92nd Street site.

As I remember it, Bob’s Manhattan apartment was in an upscale building. His large and lovely living room had been organized with an arrangement of about a dozen chairs forming a circle ideal for discussion, while his wife, Sylvia, served as a welcoming hostess presenting a friendly greeting at the door to each of those who arrived for every evening meeting. Indeed, the comfortable and casual environment proved most suitable for more relaxed discussions of our particular poems and invited elaborate dialogue about poetry that lasted far longer than would have happened in a normal classroom situation. Although the sessions often went overtime, Bob always seemed pleased by our lingering for further conversation, and Sylvia tirelessly provided additional snacks or beverages.

Barely twenty years old, I had the distinction of being the youngest student in the workshop and Bob, who was in his mid-forties, represented the oldest member, which oddly enough established a bond between the two of us from the moment we introduced ourselves to one another and attempted to fit in with the other participants.

Through a few conversations with Bob and Sylvia, I learned some details about their history. Bob’s disability resulted from an accident at the time he was sixteen when he dove into a river. Doctors considered his mere survival of the incident to be miraculous; however, they were certain the sort of damage suffered by his spinal cord would significantly shorten his life span. In fact, Bob and his physicians apparently regarded each year he lived after the accident as a bonus.

Despite his condition, Bob achieved his education goals and became a very successful businessman. Moreover, he met and married the love of his life, Sylvia. Overcoming the limitations presented by his situation and the physical stress created by his busy schedule, one that I know continually sapped Bob’s strength, he always appeared energetic and engaged during workshop discussions and in subsequent informal conversations. Furthermore, Bob’s poems clearly surpassed those of any others in the class, and a number of us wondered what benefit we possibly could be offering him in our workshop comments. Still, Bob listened carefully to every observation or suggestion concerning his work.

In the years after the poetry writing course, I moved from New York City to different parts of the country, including Utah and Indiana, and lost touch with Bob, although I did follow his poetry—when it began to appear in various literary journals, such as American Poetry Review and The New Yorker, and as a couple of his individual volumes were published (Green in the Body in 1979 by Slow Loris Press and Flogging the Czar in 1983 by Sheep Meadow Press)—until his death in 1986. However, a fortunate series of events in the 1990s allowed me to reconnect with Sylvia.

In 1992 Helen Frost, a friend and fellow participant in an Internet literary listserv group we had both just joined, posted a note to the online discussion reporting she had been selected by that year’s judge, my former University of Utah teacher Dave Smith, to receive the 1993 prize from the Poetry Society of America entitled the Robert H. Winner Memorial Award. Bob’s first book was published when he was 49; thus, the annual prize, which carries a significant cash award, is appropriately described by the PSA in the following manner: Established by the family and friends of Robert H. Winner, whose first book of poems appeared when he was almost fifty years old. This award acknowledges original work being done in mid-career by a poet who has not had substantial recognition, and it is open to poets over forty who have published no more than one book.

In a congratulatory email response to Helen Frost, I remarked how pleased I was to hear about her honor and that her work had been chosen by Dave. Additionally, I mentioned some of my fond memories of Bob and how having his name attached to Helen’s award further enhanced its stature in my eyes.

Upon receiving the award, Helen had engaged in a correspondence with Sylvia Winner and mentioned to her my comments recollecting Bob. As a consequence, Sylvia contacted me and shared the good news that Tilbury House would soon publish a collection of Bob’s complete poems, including work from a pair of previously published books and a manuscript of unpublished pieces, a copy of which she would forward to me.

That volume, The Sanity of Earth and Grass, appeared in 1994 and, in addition to Sylvia, was co-edited by poets Thomas Lux and Jane Cooper, each of whom had been Bob’s teacher when he took classes in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Lux and Cooper contributed to the collection two forewords in which they wrote of their admiration for Bob and also explained some of the qualities readers would discover in his poems.

Jane Cooper observed about Bob’s character: “Not only did he confound all the doctors’ predictions, but he lived longer as a quadriplegic than anyone else of his generation with his particular kind of spinal cord injury. Yet this fact was never allowed into the biographical matter in either of his books. Instead, his nineteen years as a stockbroker, his presidency of a small but demanding family company, the names of magazines that had printed his poems were scrupulously chronicled.”

Among his comments, Thomas Lux stated: “If asked to define the central aesthetic of Robert Winner’s poetry, I would say it was a dedication to absolute clarity and honesty. He had neither time for nor interest in the opaque, oblique, fuzzy, or decorative qualities of so much verse. Joy, celebration, sometimes lamentation (though never lugubrious), true mystery or pure wonder, and an unending and unconquerable passion for living—these were the things that did interest him and informed his work.”

In memory of that evening long ago when Robert Winner and I introduced ourselves to one another, and as an introduction to many of today’s readers who might not be familiar with his work, I offer below one of my favorites, “Premonition,” from Bob’s collection of complete poems, The Sanity of Earth and Grass:


I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet, yet trouble came.
—Job 3 25-26

My face on someone else’s body
smiles from a wheelchair
in the glossy bulletin from
Beth Abraham Home for the Incurables.
I’m sixteen like him, baffled—
his hair combed the same preoccupied way—
how can he live like that and smile
(even this weak upward twist of his lips
cajoled by the photographer)?

I know nothing yet about the consequence
of striking, neck-breaking hard,
the sandy bottom of the Little Pigeon River,
East Tennessee.
Like Job’s three comforters, I know nothing
about the difficulty of understanding
anyone else’s position,
or that I can see myself that moment
in my own future, as I shortly would be,
pinned down flat in Life, Life’s smile on my face
in a “photographic essay” on the incurable.

I was not in safety.
I put the photograph of my double
down, I think forever,
going out to look for birds in the woods,
green myself that day, green as God
before the experience of suffering.

I was not in safety, neither had I rest.
It was a cry I couldn’t hear,
an outburst of crouched grief
at what could not be undone,
a darkness shoving daylight aside
to howl at God for making
my unlucky double in a magazine
constantly glide down a corridor
towards me, wearing my face—
crashing into me every time
but noiselessly,
with the impact of shadow.

—Robert Winner


Jessie Carty said...

fantastic poem and wonderful memoir to a fellow poet.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Ed, for this thoughtful memoir of Bob and Sylvia. It was fun to see my name come into it! I saw Sylvia about two years ago when I was in NYC. Bob's poetry is so strong and true; thank you for bringing it to the attention of people who might not have been introduced before.

Margo Berdeshevsky said...

Hello Ed,
And thank you, also. I have been reading and loving Robert Winner's poems since Sylvia Winner gifted me with a copy of "The Sanity of Earth and Grass" on our first meeting, in the same lovely apartment you describe. I was there to thank her personally, and Robert Winner, through her--because I too had just received the PSA's Robert H Winner Award, that year. I continue to thank them both. And to read "Premonition," here, is to add to my deep appreciation. (In the years that followed the receipt of my Winner award,the manuscript that won--became a book titled "But a Passage in Wilderness," and it was eventually published by Sheep Meadow Press; and so the circle widens... a kinder pebble in the waters, and now the circle widens a bit more.)

With my ongoing thanks to all,
Margo Berdeshevsky

Sheep Meadow Press : http://tinyurl.com/6p3fhz