In a confluence that was personally gratifying for me, I recently learned that one friend of mine won a prize named for another friend of mine. Greg McBride, who arrived in the poetry world a few years back at around age 60, and who proceeded to make up rapidly for lost time, has been named the winner of the Liam Rector First Book Prize for Poetry. Greg’s career as a government attorney was preceded by his experience as an army photographer during the Vietnam War. That wartime service has engendered many excellent poems, such as this one from his chapbook, Back of the Envelope:
IN-COUNTRY: DAY ONE
Duffel bag stuffed in the back, he bounced down
Cong Ly on the suicide seat. The sergeant crowed
they’d stolen the mud-scarred jeep the night
before on a whorehouse street in Cholon.
His starched jungle fatigues and boots, a joke
in a city of millions, .45 hard
on his hip. Dressed in yellow, Saigon hummed
like a factory. Fuel-stench hung like a scrim.
The sun seared down on angels in ao dais,
silk panels in a red soft as wet blood,
in the green of his mother’s eyes.
They skimmed the simmering sidewalks,
at ease in their beauty under the palm-leaf
shade of conical nons, the calm rise
of dry heat, skirts wafting in spiraled mists
of nuoc mam, the smog of fried steam rolls.
That night, he sauntered down Tu Do Street.
The bar girls called and the cyclos spat
their two-cycled rasp. Distant iron bombs dropped
from B-52s burst out of the dark,
laying a blanket of moans over him
and the street and the girls too young in the night.
He glanced at the stars and felt himself
holding onto his gun with both hands.
The new book, called Porthole, will be out next year from the Briery Creek Press. Meanwhile, McBride is also the editor of a first-rate on-line magazine called the Innisfree Poetry Journal.
It’s hard to believe that Liam Rector, whom I met in the early ‘70s, has been gone for more than four years. I think he would have been pleased at McBride’s selection for this first-book prize. Liam, himself a notable poet, was a persuasive advocate for poetry and a forceful defender of free speech, once even attempting to explain Amiri Baraka to Bill O’Reilly: