Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The One About the Poetry Contest

This is pretty much only partly about the poetry contest, and a lot more about how every so often, something happens that lets me know I am actually healing. 

I haven't written much lately - I journal, but not even a lot of that.  Writing is complicated and messy for me right now, and while I miss it desperately, I know that this season will not last, and one day I will write again.  However, last fall I had the great good fortune to attend a workshop held by Malcolm Guite, and over the course of the day, I challenged myself to write a rhymed, metrical terza rima beginning with a first line of Malcolm's that resonates with me deeply.  ("Begin the song exactly where you are.")  I rose to the challenge, and after a bit of tweaking, liked the finished (ha.  Poetry is NEVER finished.) so much that I sent it in to the yearly contest at  I am always happy to support the work that Utmost is doing.

I've entered this contest before.  In April of 2008, I blogged about that year's contest.  I placed 19th that year, I think, and if I'm remembering the numbers correctly, that was the top 5 or 10% of total entries.  I was disappointed.  Here's what I had to say:

"I was disappointed. Also rather annoyed at myself for being disappointed, but disappointed nonetheless. And frustrated. I think that I can see the difference between my poetry and the top prizewinners but I don't know how to bridge that gap. As I was hiding in the bathroom trying to figure out what was SO WRONG with just wanting to be the BEST, this question slipped quietly into my mind.

"Why do you want to be the best?"

I'm a Christian. I know all the right answers.
To give glory to God. To use the gift I've been given. To strive for excellence. "We are called to excellence", I have spouted many many times.

Those weren't my answers. They weren't even on my list of answers. The answers rose like monsters from the murk.
Because I am smart. I am not as good looking as my brother or as funny as my brother but I am smart. Because my dad won't mind that I'm fat if I'm the best in the class. Smart is who I am, and if I'm first, I'm the smartest."


This year, my poem recieved an Honourable Mention. And it deserved it - it's a good poem, technically demanding, and fairly well executed.  There are a few lines that aren't quite as clearly evocative as they could be, but it ends well, and redemptively. 

But did you notice the difference in my phrasing?  In 2008, I said "I placed 19th."  This year, I said "My poem ..." 
As with other year's, I am reading the poems that placed higher (three rousing cheers for my dear friend Ellen Gray and her poem!) and thinking about the judging process but this time? for the first time that I can remember?  It's not about me.  It's about the work, which is both me and not me, but praise for my poetry is simply that, praise for my poetry.  It says nothing about my worth as a person.

And I believe that organically, immediately, without having to think about it now.

Such a deep deep blessing.


Rhonda Hagloff said...

Ah, Sue. When I read this blog, it was like I took a deep breath and then let out a big "aah". You know, the kind you let out when you sink into a wonderful, bubbly bath, or when you are napping and a cat comes and snuggles under your chin. Congratulations. Aah....

Jennifer Eagle said...

Hi Sue, I write poetry, I have even trained in creative writing at University. I find submitting very challenging. Your piece moved me greatly and gave me insight. I was delighted to hear that Sylvia Plath was rejected constantly, but she kept each draft, each rejection, and kept rewriting. Then kept sending her poetry out again. This made me feel very positive. She did not give up, she worked her poetry like a fine sculpture, and did not give up. I like your idea, too, that the place the poem places in a contest is not a personal judgement. That is what I tried to also take away from Plath's methodology. Thank you for your insight! Jennifer Eagle, Edmonton, Alberta