Pastor's Poem Wins Top Ray Bradbury Prize
Tuesday, April 13, 2004 6:09:00 PM
by Steven E. Burt
|April 13 Norwich, CT -- Rev. Steve Burt combined two of his passions (poetry and theology) with his past (dairy farming) to create "4 A.M. Milking," the poem that took First Prize at this year's Annual Ray Bradbury Creative Writing Contest. The award is named for the science fiction and horror writer who is best known for such classics as Farenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and The Martian Chronicles.
"4 A.M. Milking" is a rhymed poem that appeals to all the senses, recalling the meters, rhyme schemes, and images of New England poets Robert Frost and Robert P. Tristam Coffin. It follows a solitary farmer to the barn on a winter morning, where, through the routine experience of milking cows, he (or she) has a communion/holy-ground experience.
Dr. Burt, a United Church of Christ pastor who began writing full time in 2001, penned the poem in 1980 while at Bangor Seminary, then tucked it away. When someone told him about the Bradbury Creative Writing Competition, he dusted it off, made a few minor changes, and sent it in. The competition is judged "blind", meaning pseudonyms are attached to entries so judges (Illinois English teachers) won't know the authors. Only after a winner is selected does the awards committee learn the person's real name.
The awards letter arrived in Burt's mailbox two days after Easter. With the award comes a cash prize and a certificate signed by Bradbury. The awards tea will be held April 18 at the Public Library in Bradbury's hometown of Waukegan, Illinois. Burt can't attend because he has to preach that morning in Taftville, Cnnecticut, where he's filling in part-time until the church's new pastor arrives from Maine. "Waukegan, Illinois would be a long way to go for a cup of tea," Burt said.
Also an award-winning fiction writer, Dr. Burt is one of five finalists for the Bram Stoker Award for Young Readers and is a finalist for ForeWord Magazine's Best Juvenile/Young Adult Book of the Year.
4 A.M. Milking
Copyright 1980 by Steve Burt
The white-haired lawn lies frozen hard
As I traverse the darkened yard.
My rubber boots begin the sound
Of crunchy echoes bouncing round
Our barnyard with its still, still ground.
Latch and fingers seem to blend--
Like shaking hands with some old friend.
And, worn by time like a butcher's block,
The wooden bolt now serves as clock
To rouse the peaceful sleeping stock.
I feel like Noah on his ark,
Graining beasts in a sea of dark.
While stanchions clank and cattle stare,
Their hay-sweet breath perfumes the air
To warm me as I labor there.
And then communion in the night
As streams of creamy nectar white
Steam warm and frothy in the pail--
A milking stool my kneeling rail--
Man and beast and holy grail.
Back outside I'm breakfast-bound,
But as I cross the frosted ground
A restless rooster dares to crow.
Must he let the whole world know
About my holy ground below?