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2003 Poetry Contest

Stone Soup



Once, a university professor expressed to me her utter contempt for poets and poetry as patently frivolous at best and shamefully elitist at worst. For her, poetry is laughingly irrelevant anytime, becoming disdainfully regressive in the face of a cure for cancer, democratization in Africa, or, in the reality of war. Poetry is degradingly immaterial in a poignantly material world. Just the other day, while speaking with a friend whose mind and generosity I respect immensely, I found myself gasping for breath as she recounted the insults cast upon her by another colleague whose quiet disregard for literature are contrasted and heightened by his high regard for social analysis--metaphors don't matter, but cultural theory does. (Silly me, I thought metaphor was cultural theory only crystallized and performed).Thoughts of the war are a troubling presence in most everything I do these days. The war is a shadow of disquietude hovering above the details of my life. Even when I forget for a moment that the shadow is there, some small act of faith or fear reminds me again that we are at war. The war beleaguers me making me feel desperate in the belief that every life is abundantly precious, as precious as freedom. Most everyone I know feels the weight of this war. We are the fortunate ones: We are here and not there. We deeply mourn our dead; we deeply fear for the innocent; we deeply will the war to end; and, we write poetry, deeply. Poetry is not a luxury: It reminds and enlightens in the midst of great and abiding loss. It can open the way and name the (im)possible.

What I write and how I write is done in order to save my life. And I mean that literally. For me literature is a way of knowing that I am not hallucinating, that whatever I feel/know is. It is an affirmation that sensuality is intelligence, that sensual language is language that makes sense. --Barbara Christian

In the midst of war and in the midst of our Triangle community, this Poetry Contest that is a call for "Stone Soup" is a testament to the blessing of words that name, give meaning and "add something (stones) to the universe (pot)," whether these words conjure the smallest detail of a flower blooming, or the enormous power of a world evolving. Poems transform the monumental into the minute so we might hold it inside and take it with us, pulling it out when we need to remember how to forgive, how to love, how to survive, how to imagine and how to laugh; because it is all there in the poems--because it is worded and captured in the smallness of a mother's tear, or the curves of a leaf, or the sound of rain. Conversely, poems transform the minute into the monumental so that when we touch soft cotton, or look into the eyes of strangers, or hear children playing, or stumble onto stone soup, we remember the poem that remembers the world--remembers suffering, hope, war, beauty and belonging. Poems equip us for paying attention, for taking notice of the world, so that we might stand in empathy and re-negotiate distance. In "Bridges," Dianne Reeves sings, "be still, pay attention, and stand in love." This is how we must read poetry. We must savor it. We must be still for it, pay attention to it, and stand in love with it.

In the forefront of our move toward change, there is only poetry to hint at possibility made real. Our poems formulate the implications of ourselves, what we feel within and dare make real (or bring action into accordance with), our fears, our hopes, our most cherished terrors É Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before. --Audre Lorde

The poems offered to the theme of "Stone Soup" are testament to the "hint of possibility made real," therefore eliminating some from the list of winners was not at all an easy decision. There are three that did not make the list, but the richness of their imagery and their meanings still linger with me: the irony and irreverence of prayer, power, and profitability in "Making a Meal of Grace: Over a Steaming Bowl of Demographic Soup"; the graceful moment between a swing, a child, and nature when a mother's breath for peace made the world stop in "A Moment Forever On the Swing"; and the narrative precision in an encounter with "otherness" and the restless and poignant depths of that meeting in "Raw Sugar." These poems are extraordinary.

The final selections where ranked by combining my choices with those of the other three judges. These final poems: "The Starving African Girl," "Tomato Man," "I Have a Buddhist Mother" and "Regretting Millie," which are discussed in more detail in the following pages, vary in content and form, as well as style and voice. But what joins them is the excellence of these elements they each uniquely employ in bringing their poetry to the "hint of possibility." They each embody a fragment within the range of the ordinary and revision it into the unusual, making it worthy of our attention. They each use language honestly, economically and without pretense, relying on the integrity of their intentions and their commitment to share, yet, their language avoids the flatness of didactics and unskilled simplicity. They each give us a gift of justice and a nugget upon which we might open another possibility for change.

"...dreams are made realizable through our poems that give us the strength and courage to see, to feel, to speak, and to dare. --Audre Lorde

How were the winners chosen?
Submissions were handled anonymously. Neither the initial screeners nor the final judge knew the names of the entrants until the winning poems had been selected. The final judge selected the four winning poems and three honorable mentions from more than 40 finalists.

What did they win?
The first-place winner receives $500 cash, and three runners-up each receive $200 cash. Honorable mention winners receive $50 gift certificates to one of Chapel Hill’s premier restaurants, Spice Street, and $25 gift certificates to Durham’s The Regulator Bookshop.

Who was the final judge?
The final judge was Dr. D. Soyini Madison, professor of Performance Studies, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Soyini’s published works focus on performance practices and the intersections between gender and critical race theory. Her teaching centers on myth and popular culture, performance ethnography, performance of literature for social change, and the political economy of performance. Soyini is a Fulbright Scholar and recently completed a visiting lectureship at the University of Ghana. Her current project is an examination of staging/performing local debates surrounding human rights and traditional religious practices as these debates are influenced by the global market and national development. Soyini's favorite poets are Audre Lorde, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Pat Parker, Joy Harjo and June Jordan.

Who were the preliminary judges?

Dr. Beverly Whitaker Long is Kenan Professor of Communication Studies at UNC-CH. Her teaching and research deal with performance criticism, intertextuality, visual and verbal art, directing, poetry of women and fiction about families. She is a former President of the Speech Communication Association and Southern Communication Association, and founding editor of Literature in Performance. Beverly thinks poetry is important because "it reminds us of the complexity, the ambiguity, the search for order in our world--and ourselves." Her favorite poets (today) include Mary Oliver, Galway Kinnell, Elizabeth Bishop, Mona Van Duyn, Philip Levine and Adrienne Rich.

Michael Quattlebaum, a junior at Enloe High School, says "I like songwriters as poets, such as Joni Mitchell--she's a good lyricist--or Fiona Apple." He is the founder of Paint In Consciousness Experimental Theatre (P.I.C.E.T.), a joint venture with Raleigh's Artspace Gallery, which serves as a medium of self-expression for youth. Michael is also a playwright, actor, performance artist and visual artist. He was recently awarded the 2002 Indies Arts Award for his contributions to the Triangle arts scene. Michael believes poetry is important because it "speaks to an inner part of ourselves that regular writing cannot."

Maria Rouphail, a Lecturer in World Literature for NCSU's English department, says "Rilke and Neruda are two of my favorite poets, but Dante speaks to my heart as does no other." Maria has traveled extensively throughout the world--including twice to Cuba as a member of the Witness for Peace delegations, and is gearing up to begin research on a 19th century American novel about slavery in Cuba. When asked why poetry is important, she responds, "Poetry reminds us that we are grounded, as Baudelaire says, in the vast expanse of the infinite, in the mystery that is the human condition."

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