I'll be the first to admit it: My taste in poetry is, on one level, very traditional: If the poem isn't musical, if there is no logic to the line breaks, a beat or a rhythm or a palette of sound color that is being played with, it won't appeal to me. I like poems that sing. On another level, however, I love a poem that points off the page into the very real world—the world I live in, or a world I know of, or even a world that is new to me. Poems that reference human relationships, even political ones, always resound more strongly with me than poems that speak of static art or that are in conversation with other poems. A poem is, after all, a statement made from one person to many, so why waste it merely on a flight of fancy, on describing a perfect blue pot on a shelf? Though I don't always manage it with my own writing, I always appreciate poems that add something necessary to the world.
One of my favorite poems is Richard Wilbur's "The Pardon." In this poem the speaker remembers the time his dog died. He was a boy then, and was frightened (a child would say "weirded out") by the fact of his dead dog—so weirded out that he couldn't bring himself to bury the dog and his father had to do it, five days later. The title of the poem comes from a dream that the speaker had, wherein he was able to apologize to his dog. What's lovely about this poem, in addition to its music (a varied iambic pentameter, with rhyme and half-rhyme), is Wilbur's careful use of imagery to relate emotion. He never says "I was freaked out." Instead he describes the dog lying in "a jungle of grass"—an exotic, strange, un-enterable place. He doesn't say "I didn't give him a funeral" but instead describes the dog as "clothed in a hymn of flies." He doesn't say "How could my dog forgive me?" but rather shows himself "asking forgiveness of his tongueless head." "The Pardon" speaks to a particular moment, but it relates an emotion that many of us have felt: Regret that, once upon a time, we didn't say or do the right thing. And ultimately, this poem does some work in the world: Although the story is a sad one, the poem's music is consoling. It makes us feel better.
The poems that I've chosen as winners of the 2006 Independent Weekly poetry contest all appealed to me both musically and narratively. —Andrea Selch, final judge
Join us on Friday, April 14 at 7 p.m. for a reading and reception celebrating the contest winners at Quail Ridge Books & Music, 3522 Wade Ave., Raleigh, 828-1588. The reading will include an open mic for the public.
The JudgesPreliminary Judges
Randall Williams is a poet and filmmaker who lives in Hillsborough. Last year he was named one of America's 16 Hot Shot Poets by Octopus magazine. His work has appeared in McSweeneys, Salon, Talisman, Word/ for Word, GutCult, the Independent Weekly and The Carolina Quarterly. He's the author of two chapbooks, Empire (2003) and 40 Days (2004), and the forthcoming book Grammatical Unrest. He is a member of the Lucifer Poetics Group.
Tanya Olson lives in Durham and teaches at Vance-Granville Community College, the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University and Governor's School East. She holds an M.A. in Anglo-Irish Literature from University College, Dublin and a Ph.D. in 20th-century British Literature from UNC-Greensboro. Her work has been published in, among other places, Cairn, Bad Subjects, Main Street Rag, Raleigh News & Observer, Elysian Fields and the Independent Weekly, and she has work forthcoming in Southern Cultures and Crucible. She coordinates the durham3 reading series, is a member of the Black Socks poetry group, and serves on the board of the Carolina Wren Press. She is proud to have been the first-place winner in the 2005 Independent poetry contest.
Andrea Selch was an Indy staffer from 1986-89. She has an MFA in creative writing from UNC-Greensboro and a Ph.D. in English from Duke University. She taught creative writing at Duke from 1999-2003. Since that time, she has been directing Carolina Wren Press, writing and raising two children with her partner Anita Mills. Her poems have been published in many journals, including Prairie Schooner, Calyx, The Asheville Poetry Review, Oyster Boy Review, Luna and The MacGuffin. Her full-length collection, Startling, was published by Turning Point Books in 2004.