A soft undulation of consonants, "memory" is one of the loveliest words in the English language. It seems to drift in the back of the mouth even as it emerges, making the lips come together twice before the last syllable sighs out.
Despite this linguistic ease, writers throughout the ages have had a damn hard time with the act of memory, blaming it for faultiness, or for being opaque. "O memory! Thou fond deceiver," wrote Oliver Goldsmith. "How confusing the beams from memory's lamp are," said Ogden Nash. And finally, for a little Southern salt: "Memory: I could take my head and strike it on a wall," from Georgian James Dickey.
For poets, particularly, memory is both necessary and irritating. Although it is one of the most well-traveled roads to the interior of the mind, ruts and dead ends abound along the way. No one goes down it without hazard.
This year's Independent poetry contest saw many local writers taking that passage, regardless of risk. We received more than 700 individual poems for submission, and they demonstrated not only the scope of interest in poetry in the Triangle, but also the wide spectrum of voices writing here. Due to the sheer numbers, the competition this year was fiercer than in years past. Everything from dramatic monologues to rhymed sonnets came in; there were poems from nurses and teachers and lovers and grandmothers.
The winning poems, however, all had something in common: They paid attention to image and rhythm, and they brought out something unique about their author. For winner Sandra Stringer, it is a black shawl on the ground, "dragged there by the dog/who found it somewhere/or other," that symbolizes the speaker's own sense of worthlessness after being molested at a young age. For Kate Lovelady, it is a comfortable and unpretentious intimacy of detail as she becomes different selves after seeing a movie, "a sleepy man in a puffy coat/a kid squirming at a sex scene." A ringing and humorous defiance against the stereotypes of body image marks Susan Langford's poem, while Shuly X. Cawood's quiet meditation on visiting an aunt in Torreón beautifully evokes an old love affair.
If, as Solzhenitsyn once wrote, literature is the living memory of a nation, then these four poems and the hundreds of submissions we received show that the Triangle is far from cultural senility. Instead, we are just beginning to record the history of this corner of the New South, with its varied voices, its sushi restaurants and Krispy Kreme shops, its congested highways and country roads. Thanks to all those who entered the contest for allowing us to hear your words.
How were the winners chosen?
Submissions were handled anonymously. Neither the initial screeners nor the preliminary or final judges knew the names of the entrants until the winning poems had been selected. The screeners read each submission and chose, by consensus, poems to be sent to the preliminary judges. The preliminary judges selected a total of 15 poems to be sent to the final judge, who selected one winner and three runners-up.
Who were the preliminary judges?
Ulrick Casimir is a recent graduate of The University of North Carolina at Greensboro's Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. Both a Barwick-Sink and Randall Jarrell Fellow, he is currently a professor of English at Methodist College and Fayetteville Technical Community College.
Frances Dowell has published poems in Poetry East, Shenandoah, the Asheville Review and other journals. She is the author of a children's novel, Dovey Coe, and editor of Dream/Girl: The Arts Magazine for Girls. She lives in Raleigh.
E.V. Noechel is an artist-in-residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts, thanks to a grant from the North Carolina Arts Council. Her poem, "Instant," won the 2000 Independent poetry contest. She has recently completed a novel, Sanitized.
Who was the final judge?
Jane Mead was educated at Vassar College, Syracuse University, and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. In 1991, State Street Press published her long poem, "A Truck Marked Flammable," as a chapbook. Her poems have been published in The New York Times, Best American Poetry of 1990, American Poetry Review, The Virginia Quarterly, Ploughshares and The Antioch Review. In 1992, she received a Whiting Writers' Award, and she was selected by Philip Levine as the 1995 winner of the Kathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry. She is currently the poet-in-residence at Wake Forest University.