“The Massachusetts Book Awards," the program states on its website, "highlight the work of our vital contemporary writing community and encourage readers to do some 'close reading' of those imaginative works created by the authors among us."
The awards recognize worthy works in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and children's or young adult literature published in the previous year.
"Gardeners Do It With Their Hands Dirty" was nominated by publisher Leah Maines of Finishing Line Press.
Published in May of 2017, it's a chapbook -- a publisher's term for a half-sized collection of poetry by a single author. A full volume of poetry runs from 64 to about 100 pages, the chapbook generally tops off in the thirties. "Gardeners" is 36 pages. It includes poems published in Verse-Virtual, where I continue to publish regularly as a contributing editor, and in six other journals, including "Off the Coast," "Guide to Kulchur Creative Journal," and "Yellow Chair Review."
Here's the introduction to the collection that I wrote for the publisher:
"Many of the poems in this book, especially those that relate to its title, spring from a decision following our move to a house in Quincy, Mass. -- with little lawn and no landscaping to speak of -- to dig up the turf and plant flowering perennials, ground cover, shrubs, a small tree or two, berry bushes, potted annuals, and vegetables. My first title for these poems about the garden project was "The Amateur." From a Latin root, the word means "lover." I have no training, no claim to expertise; I'm not a professional -- I don't even belong to a garden club. I simply began digging things up and planting. So, to be an amateur means to do something not for money, but for love, or desire.
Years later, with mature perennials and shrubs elbowing each other for growing room, I love the idea that when we step outdoors we are in nature. The "environment" begins at the doorstep.
Open the door; breathe the air; listen.
One day a cardinal sat on the head of a sunflower, bobbing and calling, looking for all the world as if he had just lost something. (His mate?) I noticed he extracted a few sunflower seeds while he was there. There is always something to see.
"Gardeners Do It With Their Hands Dirty" includes poems about plants, flowers, the craft of cultivation, talking to trees, getting stared at by hummingbirds. Seasons change and so do we. The second half of the collection encompasses poems about family, places near and far, my father's near-fatal journey in World War II ("My Dad's Ship But One of Three"), "The Sacred Way" at Delphi in Greece, Syrian refugees in Beirut ("Sidewalk Madonnas"), and a quick dip into formal verse with "The Slow Tritina."
The Massachusetts Book Awards program was created by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, which in turn is an affiliate of Mass Humanities, the state agency that funds initiatives to promote the arts and humanities in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
So far my response is to follow the advice of the publisher, who says I "don't have to do anything but be happy."
I'll close with a short poem from the "Garden Lovers" sequence.
Flowers are the sex organs
Of hot momma nature.
We all love the colors, the shapes,
The delicate constructions.
They bring us together.
Do not ask what makes
that deep, persistent buzz
that hovers above Zouve jackets and bell-flared trousers,
transparent angel wings extended
and wiggles its butt between stamen and pistil