The State of the State in Poetry (cross post)

[Cross posted from Ian MacInnes’ blog, Free Range Teaching]

As we leave April behind, I find myself reflecting on the Charles Crupi Memorial poetry competition, which I have judged now for many years. It is perhaps the only state-wide poetry competition open to Michigan high school students, and it produces a LOT of poetry. This year we had more than 1200 contestants. My job is to read all the poems and narrow them down to 100 or so for our final judges. As you might imagine, the experience of reading all these poems is daunting, even exhausting, but I always find it strangely uplifting. It’s not just the occasional brilliant poem that makes it worthwhile. It’s the sum total of all that young poetic expression. Of course, not everything we get is actually a poem. Occasionally someone will even submit a photograph, and we get a few prose passages from essays and quite a bit of “if it rhymes it must be poetry.” And every year we get at least one poem called “I’m only writing this poem for extra credit,” a title that could lead to a deliciously ironic award winning poem, were it not always so true. But overall our high school students are deeply sincere, and for me sincerity has the power to elevate even the humblest poem. Lines such as “Please dear Lord have pity / Don’t take my kitty”(1) may not be part of a winning entry, but you can’t deny their touching authenticity.

It’s impossible to read 1200 poems without realizing that they fall into definite genres. Some are traditional to lyric poetry like the “I’m sorry you’re dead” poems or the “Do you love me?” poems (2). These can be either wonderful or awful, but either way they show that these young writers know something of the work that poetry can do in the world. Even teen angst is oddly touching. These are the endless poems about the corruption of the world or the “when-you-said-you-loved-me-you-were-lying” poems. Their cynicism is happily false. Those who are truly jaded by “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” no longer see them as a subject for poetry. Our contestants, on the other hand, like Hamlet, still have the grace to be appalled by the world. The other aspect of the competition that gives me faith in the future is the love of language that runs through the entries like gold, emerging here and there in brilliant seams and nuggets. Most of all this reminds me of the gifted high school teachers who stand behind many of these young poets. Michigan owes these teachers a debt of gratitude. They are the ones who are teaching our children the power of poetry to imagine the world anew.

(1) Loosely remembered from an entry some years ago.
(2) I attribute these phrases to Harvard scholar Helen Vendler, from a public lecture long ago.

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ROBERT H. GILDART WRITING PRIZES FOR CREATIVE WRITING

Who: All Albion College students who entered as first-year students in 2013 and transfer students with sophomore standing. What: A gift to the English department made possible the creation of the Robert H. Gildart Writing Prizes. These are cash prizes designed to honor the career of Bob Gildart, who taught at Albion College for 25 years and cared deeply about the quality of student writing. The prizes will be awarded each year to sophomores at Albion College. Up to three awards in each category will be made this year, and this notice is an invitation to all sophomores to submit their work for consideration. How: You may submit original works in one or more of the following categories: poetry, fiction, drama. Submissions for each category may contain more than one work but should not exceed 15 pages in total length (25 pages for drama). Entries that contain more than one work in a category will be judged as a whole.

Important Information: To be considered for a Gildart Prize, bring your entry to the English Office (406 Vulgamore Hall) by 12:00 PM (noon) on Thursday, March 5, 2015. Each entry should have a title-page that includes the following: (1.) The Gildart Prize Contest of 2015, (2.) your name, (3.) your student number, and (4.) the first line of the entry. Note: Your name should not appear within the poetry, fiction or drama work you are submitting.Please paper clip your title-page/s to each of your poetry, fiction or drama work/s.

Good Luck! We look forward to reviewing–and rewarding– some excellent student writing.

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2014-15 Albion College Reading Series Continues with Fiction Reading by Monica McFawn

Monica McFawn

Monica McFawn

Monica McFawn lives in Michigan and teaches writing at Grand Valley State University. Her fiction has appeared in the Georgia Review, Gettysburg ReviewWeb ConjunctionsMissouri Review, and others.  Her collection of short stories, Bright Shards of Someplace Else, won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. She is also the author of a hybrid chapbook, A Catalogue of Rare Movements, and her plays and screenplays have had readings in Chicago and New York.

The reading takes place on Thursday, February 5, 2015, at 5:00 p.m. in the Wendell Will Room. Albion College Reading Series events are free and open to the public. Learn more about the Albion College Reading Series by visiting the Albion College Reading Series page.

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2014-15 Albion College Reading Series Opens With a Creative Nonfiction Reading by Joe Wilkins

Joe Wilkins

Joe Wilkins

Joe Wilkins is the author of the memoir The Mountain and the Fathers (2012), a 2012 Montana Book Award Honor book and winner of the 2014 GLCA New Writers award. He is also the author of two poetry collections, Killing the Murnion Dogs (2011) and Notes from the Journey Westward (2012), winner of the White Pine Press Poetry Prize and the High Plains Book Award. His work has appeared in many magazines and journals, including The Georgia Review, The Southern ReviewThe Missouri Review, and Slate, and has also been anthologized in Best American Magazine Writing, Writing Today, New Poets of the American West, The Southern Poetry Anthology, and Best New Poets 2006. The recipient of the Richard J. Margolis Award of Blue Mountain Center and the winner of the Boyden Wilderness Writing Residency from PEN Northwest, Wilkins was born and raised in eastern Montana. He earned his MFA in creative writing from the University of Idaho, and he currently teaches at Linfield College.

The reading takes place on Monday, October 20, 2014, at 5:00 p.m. in Bobbitt Auditorium. Albion College Reading Series events are free and open to the public. Learn more about the Albion College Reading Series by visiting the Albion College Reading Series page.

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Dan Albergotti’s Poems by Jess Roberts

One of the best decisions I made last fall was to go to the Albion College Student Farm to make candles. Why? It’s not because I stood with my love next to a hot fire under a cold sky or because I watched my kiddo watch hot wax harden and thicken and take on its candle shape, though I am glad both those things happened. It’s because of a question Jake and Angie DeCola asked me.

Here’s the question: have you read Dan Albergotti’s poems?

I hadn’t, but soon I would.

Their question sent me in search of Dan’s poems, poems he will read aloud tomorrow night in the Wendell Will Room.

By the time I got his book in the mail, I knew a bit about what to expect. Jake and Angie had told me that he (Dan) loved poet Jack Gilbert, a love I (and many others) share. I had also poked around on fishhouse.org, a website that showcases new poets, and found some of his words, all of them quite lovely.

Even still I was unprepared for some of the poems that make up the pages of his beautiful book The Boatloads. He does in his poems something that I love: he goes inside the minds and selves of literary characters and bids them to speak, to speak again.

In one of my favorites, Dan gives voice to Cain whose brother Abel lies dead at his hands. In Dan’s lines, the Biblical character whose inner life is not subject to much description in the Book of Genesis finds harrowing expression:

When I lifted that sheep’s skull to the sky
and brought it down on my brother’s head,
I was just being the rough beast that the Lord had made me.
My God, my god—He sowed deep that hard seed
of death. I merely reaped its dark read fruit.

The cry “My God, my God” seems both a plea and an accusation, a cry of longing and of anger. In that cry, I feel as though I hear a deep voice—Cain’s voice, yes, but also a voice that lives somewhere inside me, maybe inside all of us.

I am not sure why I love so much poems that give voice to characters whom others have created: I think it has something to do with my own enduring belief that literary characters are real. Their being the product of imagination does not lessen their reality for me, and when poets like Dan or Jack Gilbert or Wallace Stevens, whose poems Dan has clearly read and loves, take up those characters, I feel as though I am given greater access to their fullness and so to my own and to those around me.

I hope you will join us at Dan’s reading tomorrow at 5pm in the Wendell Will Room. There you may hear a humor and lightness that do not characterize “Testimony” but do characterize so many of his poems. There you may hear the many characters of our literary past speak in voices that are, thanks to him, so present. It promises to be a lovely night.

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2013-14 Albion College Reading Series Concludes with a Poetry Reading by Dan Albergotti

Dan Albergotti

Dan Albergotti is the author of The Boatloads (BOA, 2008), which poet Edward Hirsch selected for the Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize, and the forthcoming Millennial Teeth (Southern Illinois University Press, 2014), which poet Rodney Jones selected for the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition.  He is also the author of The Use of the World (Unicorn Press, 2013), a limited-edition chapbook, and Charon’s Manifest, which won the Randall Jarrell/Harperprints Chapbook Competition (2005).  His poetry has appeared in literary journals such as Blackbird, Five Points, Mid-American Review, Shenandoah, The Southern Review,  and The Virginia Quarterly Review. A scholar at the Sewanee and Bread Loaf writers’ conference, a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and a Pushcart Prize recipient, Dan Albergotti holds an MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  Currently, he edits the online journal Waccamaw and teaches creative writing and literature at Coastal Carolina University.

The reading takes place on Thursday, April 10, 2014, at 5:00 p.m. in the Wendell Will Room. Albion College Reading Series events are free and open to the public. Learn more about the Albion College Reading Series by visiting the Albion College Reading Series page.

 

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2013-14 Albion College Reading Series features Poetry Reading By Rowan Ricardo Phillips

Rowan Ricardo Phillips

Rowan Ricardo Phillips is the author of The Ground (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), which won the 2013 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry (2013), the GLCA New Writers Award for Poetry (2013), and was a finalist for both the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry (2012) and the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry. Phillips is also the author of a collection of essays, When Blackness Rhymes with Blackness (Dalkey Archive Press, 2010), and a translation of Salvador Espriu’s short stories, Ariadne in the Grotesque Labyrinth (Dalkey Archive Press, 2012). His poetry has appeared in literary journals such as Callaloo, Granta, The Iowa Review, jubilat, The New Republic, The New Yorker, and The Paris Review. Born and raised in New York City, he is a graduate of Swarthmore College and Brown University. He is currently an associate professor of English and the director of the Poetry Center at Stony Brook University.  He lives in New York and Barcelona.

The reading takes place on Tuesday, March 4, 2014, at 5:00 p.m. in the Wendell Will Room. Albion College Reading Series events are free and open to the public. Learn more about the Albion College Reading Series by visiting the Albion College Reading Series page.

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ROBERT H. GILDART WRITING PRIZES FOR CREATIVE WRITING

Who: All Albion College students who entered as first-year students in 2012 and transfer students with sophomore standing. What: A gift to the English department made possible the creation of the Robert H. Gildart Writing Prizes. These are cash prizes designed to honor the career of Bob Gildart, who taught at Albion College for 25 years and cared deeply about the quality of student writing. The prizes will be awarded each year to sophomores at Albion College. Up to three awards in each category will be made this year, and this notice is an invitation to all sophomores to submit their work for consideration. How: You may submit original works in one or more of the following categories: poetry, fiction, drama. Submissions for each category may contain more than one work but should not exceed 15 pages in total length (25 pages for drama). Entries that contain more than one work in a category will be judged as a whole.

Important Information: To be considered for a Gildart Prize, bring your entry to the English Office (406 Vulgamore Hall) by 12:00 PM (noon) on Thursday, March 6, 2014. Each entry should have a title-page that includes the following: (1.) The Gildart Prize Contest of 2014, (2.) your name, (3.) your student number, and (4.) the first line of the entry. Note: Your name should not appear within the poetry, fiction or drama work you are submitting. Please paper clip your title-page/s to each of your poetry, fiction or drama work/s.

Good Luck! We look forward to reviewing–and rewarding– some excellent student writing.

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2013-2014 Albion College Reading Series Continues – Fiction Reading: Ismet Prcic

Ismet Prcic

Ismet Prcic is the author of Shards (Black Cat, an imprint of Grove/Atlantic), a novel that won the GLCA New Writers Award for fiction (2013), and was shortlisted for the Center of Fiction’s Flaherty-Dunnan award (2011). He is a recipient of a 2010 NEA Award for fiction and was a 2011 Sundance Screenwriting Lab fellow.  Born in Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Prcic immigrated to America in 1996. He holds an MFA from the University of California, Irvine, and he currently lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife.  Visit him online at: http://www.ismetprcic.com/index.html.

The reading takes place on Tuesday, January 28, 2014, at 5:00 p.m. in the Wendell Will Room. Albion College Reading Series events are free and open to the public. Learn more about the Albion College Reading Series by visiting the Albion College Reading Series page.

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