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F O R E W O R D I heard music, anonymous and sublime, throughout my reading of the finalist manuscripts in this poetry contest. I wondered how to choose one of them when I wanted to award, or at least thank, a number of writers for letting me enjoy their vitality and skill. Then Zorba’s Daughter leaped out at me with an urgency whose source was charged language. Time and again, I was compelled by the best word, the unpredictable phrase, the surprise. The writer’s name, I found out later, is Elisabeth Murawski, and I regret that the poems were unfamiliar to me although they have appeared in a chapbook and in journals. The voice is entirely new. It has a haunting, plaintive quality I find unforgettable, at times close to prayer. The poet transcends her subjects, presenting the details of personal experience in ways that become immediately recognizable to everyone: a Roman mass, a spelling bee, vandalism in an Elizabethan garden. The author of Zorba’s Daughter lives in a state of perpetual astonishment and dares us to enter her world. A visit to “Hatteras Lighthouse,” which in other hands could be an ordinary seaside journey, is transformed here into a hair-raising adventure: We laugh and pant for our hearts pushed this far, each step harder than the last, the air close and humid so that our hair clings to our necks and we gasp, forced to stop at landings on this spiral to a man-made moon Often the poems are startling for what they do not say. Murawski’s silences are eloquent. She hints at universally painful themes: religious ambivalence, for one; incest for another. The sacred is her territory, but in writing of normative observances and codes of behavior she awakens powerful Catholic guilt and, by extension, our own culpability . Here is the memory of a mass in which the priest “speaks in Latin/or in Polish:” [xii] I bow my head to imitate the old man who on Sundays stays for all the Masses, locked in place at the altar rail, face buried in his hands, hunched over and sad as if, like me, he’d done everything wrong. Someone like him, I think, could stop the nails from going in. Again in a delicate, almost casual, but poignant tone, she writes of loss in early childhood: I watched the mouth death played strange tricks about, the lips a line pulled thin as Mama’s eyebrow. In every empty room I faced her language in the dark. There were too many vowels. They stung like accidental tears. They rolled like ice cubes off her tongue. Murawski arrests our attention. She domesticates Bishop’s keen observation, making small things large and commanding us to watch. Hearing mourning doves, she brings us to their song: listen they chorus. Here is the underlying sorrow of the world. In the belly. In the rock. In the black holes of heaven. [xiii] Reading Murawski, I think of the poet for whom this series is named. I recall especially her wonder at the miraculous in the quotidian . Whether May Swenson’s subjects are commonplace or unfamiliar, she presents them with an urgency that builds their impact. Murawski carries on that great tradition. Grace Schulman When everything goes wrong, what a joy to test your soul and see if it has endurance and courage! An invisible and all-powerful enemy— some call him God, others the Devil, seems to rush upon us to destroy us; but we are not destroyed. I felt deep within me that the highest point a man can attain is not Knowledge, or Virtue, or Goodness, or Victory, but something even greater, more heroic and despairing: Sacred Awe! Nikos Kazantzakis Zorba the Greek ZORBA’S DAUG H TER ...


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