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2020 Gaithersburg Book Festival Poetry Contest Winners!

Thank you to everyone who entered the Gaithersburg Book Festival High School Poetry Contest!

There were some fantastic poems.  Thank you to Shout Mouse and our first round readers. Thanks to Elizabeth Lund, our final judge and her director/producer who helped us put together an official announcement for our first, second, and third place winners, as well as our Fan Favorite.

Congratulations to all of the winners and this year’s fan favorite.

COVID-19 Choices: Virtual Events

As many of you know, I had been working on the poetry contest for the Gaithersburg Book Festival, which was scheduled for May 16. Sadly, COVID-19 changed all that and many of the spectacular events and discussions leading up to it, as well as the festival, had to be cancelled.

The Festival team, like many others, worked together to create a virtual program for our Festival attendees online. While the program has us socially distant in our homes and watching online, many of the great authors we wanted to see are still talking to us, sharing their books, and so much more.

Please do click on the banner and check out the programming. Or head on over to the Gaithersburg Book Festival YouTube Channel.

Here’s a run down of the program during the weekend, and special stuff happens every weekend:

Featured Programming Over Four Consecutive Weeks, Saturday, May 16 – Sunday, June 14.

  • TGIF Live! One live author presentation, streamed to the GBF YouTube channel each Friday evening at 5:30 pm
  • Saturday Night Premiere  A YouTube video watch party with the author in attendance, each Saturday night at 7 pm
  • Sunday Morning Kids  One children’s author presentation streamed to the GBF YouTube channel each Sunday morning at 11 am  
  • Wednesday Workshops  Writing workshops featuring a variety of topics offered each Wednesday morning and afternoon. Spaces limited. Registration required.

This weekend’s events are not to be missed:

Weekend of 5/22-5/24

Friday, 5/22

TGIF LIVE! at 5:30 pm with Louis Bayard – “Courting Mr. Lincoln.”  Bayard writes about the brilliant, melancholic future president and the two people who knew him best: his confidant, Joshua Speed, and the spirited young debutante Mary Todd. In conversation with author Jennifer Bort Yacovissi

Saturday, 5/23

Saturday Night Premiere at 7 pm with Jonathan Karl  – “Front Row at the Trump Show.” As the Chief White House Correspondent and Chief Washington Correspondent for ABC News and the President of the White House Correspondents Association (2019-2020), Jonathan Karl delivers essential new reporting and surprising insights. He’s known and covered Donald Trump longer than any other White House reporter. In conversation with author and journalist Susan Page.

Sunday, 5/24

Sunday Morning Kids at 11 am, LIVE with Adam Gidwitz – “Unicorn Rescue Society #5: The Madre de Aguas of Cuba.”  In Cuba, it is believed that a mysterious water serpent–the Madre de aguas–is responsible for providing and protecting the fresh water of the island. But the serpent is missing, and a drought has gripped the island. Uchenna, Elliot, and Professor Fauna fly to Cuba and endeavor to rescue the Madre de aguas.

POETRY ALREADY AVAILABLE: (Bonus Author Presentations)

I hope that you’ll check out the great content. We know this isn’t the same as bringing the community to one place for an entire day of literature and connection, but in these times, this is how we continue to share.

Said Through Glass by Jona Colson

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 84 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Said Through Glass by Jona Colson is a keen observance of ordinary life and how we deal with not only grief, but our feelings of “otherness” even among family. There are several poems in an interview style throughout the collection, which I felt disconnected from.The one “interview” style poem I did enjoy and did feel connected to was “House for Sale,” where readers get a sense of a distracted home buyer who has lost his father and is trying to navigate life after.

However, I really loved Colson’s use of language to demonstrate ailments like arthritis and so much more. In “My Mother’s Hands,” the narrator speaks about his mother’s arthritic hands in a way that makes them beautiful: “Now, her fingers turn and twist against themselves,/like stems of wild roses–reaching out/into delicate air.” And in “Retina,” the narrator talks about the darkness of an eye out of sorts and the joy of being able to finally see again: “And the next day: surgery,/to fasten the retina, like wallpaper, back to the frazzled/optic nerve and satisfy its hunger for impulse/and clear astonishment of light.//” There is so much beauty in this collection.

Honey

It pours from a jar, amber and combed
too thick to understand.

It softens the parched skin
rubbed in small fingerfuls.

It soothes the throat
when we stir it into tea.

At breakfast, it sweetens the morning toast
while we talk of summer --

hopeful as a bee toward a tulip
promising pollen.

In part three, we switch gears in a way with a series of ekphrastic poems after a painting from Diego Velazquez called Las Meninas. When I saw this, I wanted a QR Code, like in Jessica Piazza’s latest collection, This Is Not a Sky, but it’s not necessary as this painting was easy to find online. These poems carry a heaviness that makes it easy to visualize the kids/women in this painting, including the Spanish Infanta Margaret Theresa. In the first poem, Theresa is the central figure and her “hoop skirt” is heavy like her heart later in the poem, signifying the weight of obligation she carries. “Heart-heavy, she rises, oiled and/drowsy, surging on, with no anchor,/only a painting of her, here and there./” Colson breathes new life into the Infanta, and the journey is intriguing as it touches on the royal life lightly.

Said Through Glass by Jona Colson speaks and readers must listen, but more than that they must interact with the lines and stanzas on the page — becoming a second observer. Readers will see through this window unique ways to look at the ordinary — from honey to an orange — and examine loss, grief, and change in a way that is not only sad, but beautiful. This beauty ties the collection to its grief to create an arc of healing.

RATING: QUATRAIN

About the Poet:

Jona Colson is an educator and poet. He graduated from Goucher College with a double Bachelor’s degree in English and Spanish and earned his MFA from American University and a Master’s in Literature/Linguistics from George Mason University. His poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Ploughshares, The Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere. In addition to writing his own poetry, he also translates the Spanish language poetry of Miguel Avero from Montevideo, Uruguay. His translations can be found in Prairie Schooner, Tupelo Quarterly, and Palabras Errantes. He has also published several interviews for The Writer’s Chronicle. He is currently Associate Professor at Montgomery College in Maryland where he teaches English as a second language. He lives in Dupont circle area of Washington, DC. Visit his website at jonacolson.com

Poem: Our Future Will Become the Past of Other Women by Eavan Boland

Today’s poem I share to honor the passing of Eavan Boland, an Irish poet who has recently passed away. I loved her poems. There’s a new documentary about her, that you can read about here.

Please listen below:

Do you have a favorite poem by Boland? Please share in the comments.

Other Voices Other Lives by Grace Cavalieri

Source: Purchased at Gaithersburg Book Festival
Paperback, 250 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Other Voices Other Lives by Grace Cavalieri (listen to this interview), poet laureate of Maryland, is part of Alan Squire Publishing’s legacy collections and includes a selection of poems and plays, as well as interviews from her The Poet & the Poem public radio series.

I just had to get my hands on this collection when I was at last year’s Gaithersburg Book Festival and I had the honor of greeting her and escorting her about the local festival before her appearance was required on a panel and at the announcement of our 2019 high school poetry contest winners.

Selection from "Work Is My Secret Lover"

Work
takes the palm of my hand to kiss
in the middle of the night
it holds my wrist lightly and feels the pulse
Work is who you'll find with me
when you tiptoe up the stairs
and hear my footsteps through the shadows

I love that her poems take on a personality of their own and many of them are so different, tackling not only the angst of the writer’s life and the love we have for our work (which can take precedence over other things), but also the voices in which she speaks not for others but with them. From Anna Nicole Smith’s to Mary Wollstonecraft’s voice to poems styled after William Carlos Williams, Cavalieri’s imagination brings a new life to these women’s voices. Even the selections from her plays are lyrical and full of whimsy (in a way). Her persona poems imbue the public perceptions of women with a compassionate eye.

If you listen to her interview, at about 5:06, you’ll hear her read “Moderation,” which is my favorite poem from this collection. It’s deeply moving. A moment where a man knows it is time to pass into another world, and he hopes to never inconvenience anyone with his death. This silent man who doesn’t live outside the lines. Cavalieri displays her keen observations about her father and others, but she also observes herself as an outsider, an observer full of emotion. Other Voices Other Lives by Grace Cavalieri is a deeply emotional journey through her work, and it always rings true. I’ll be seeking out her other collections in the future.

Grace Cavalieri needs no introduction in Maryland as our state Poet Laureate, but damn she is smart, observant, kind, and deliciously cognizant of how to imbue others with humanity through her own compassionate lens.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Grace Cavalieri is an Italian American writer and host of the radio program The Poet and the Poem, presented by the Library of Congress through National Public Radio. She is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Poems: New and Selected (1994), Pinecrest Rest Haven (1998), and Greatest Hits, 1975–2000 (2002). Her collection What I Would Do for Love: Poems in the Voice of Mary Wollstonecraft (2004) was awarded the Patterson Poetry Prize; Water on the Sun (2006) won the Bordighera Poetry Prize. Further collections include Anna Nicole: Poems (2008) and Sounds Like Something I Would Say (2010).

Poem Generator Fun: Limerick

I just love a good limerick. This is usually another five line poem, but there’s always a bit of humor — some of the best are bawdy.  All have vivid imagery.

Here’s one from Ogden Nash:

The turtle lives ‘twixt plated decks
Which practically conceal its sex.
I think it clever of the turtle
In such a fix to be so fertile.

I also like this from Edward Lear:

There was a Young Lady whose chin
Resembled the point of a pin:
So she had it made sharp,
And purchased a harp,
And played several tunes with her chin.

Here’s mine from the poem generator:

There once was a man called danny.
He said, “See the lovely hanney!”
It was rather last,
But not enthusiast,
He couldn’t say no to the manni.

Let’s create some limericks! Share what poem you created in the comments.

Book Spine Poetry

Many book bloggers have participated in online memes where we’ve taken photos of our book stacks and our bookshelves. But have you ever wondered if you took some extra care, you could arrange those books’ titles to create your very own poem?

I’d love to see your book spine poems, feel free to tag @SavvyVerseWit on Twitter and use the #bookspinepoetry

Here’s what I came up with:

Girls like us
partial genius
Other voices, other lives
said through glass

What poem did you create?

Erasure Poetry

I’ve always loved blackout poetry, taking an existing text and erasing parts of it to create something new. Erasure poetry enables not only the poet but the reader to see an older work in a new way.

According to the Academy of American Poets, one famous erasure poet, Ronald Johnson, took the form to a new level when he revised the first four books of John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

One of my favorite collections of this type of poetry is from Heather Aimee O’Neill and Jessica Piazza, Obliterations. You can check out my review of that book from 2016.

Here’s Robert Frost’s Nothing Gold Can Stay (with my erasures):

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Here’s the clean version:

Nature's first green
hardest to hold
early flower
subsides to leaf.
grief,
goes down
Nothing can stay.

Give it a try and see what you can come up with.

Poem: won’t you celebrate with me by Lucille Clifton

Today’s poem I share is from Lucille Clifton and is a poem about hope and perseverance in times of adversity. You can listen to the poem, here.

won’t you celebrate with me

won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

What poems have you found during our pandemic lockdown?

I Shimmer Sometimes, Too by Porsha Olayiwola

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 96 pgs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

I Shimmer Sometimes, Too by Porsha Olayiwola, who is Boston’s poet laureate, is a collection of hard truths. I first heard about her from this interview, which is a must listen. Her poems are raw and pull no punches, and they shouldn’t. She’s speaking for a very marginalized group of people in our society – queer black women.

Her opening poem brings to the forefront the rawness of our immigration policies in this country and the damage left behind when her father was sent to his homeland and her mother was left in the United States to raise their children. Olayiwola imagines what life would have been like had her father been able to stay in “Had My Parents Not Been Separated After My Father’s Traffic Stop, Arrest, and Deportation From the United States of America.” This serves as a lens through which her life has unfolded – the discrimination that follows her as a black woman who is queer — and her light amidst all of it. Even in the darkest moments of arrest, her poems shimmer with hope and light.

From "Interlude at a Neighborhood Gas Station: 2001"

the music peeled back the air
as the ivory chrysler swerved and jolted
into a spot behind our parked toyota

From modern subjects of finding and losing love, struggling with mental illness, dealing with discrimination at every turn, Olayiwola has a keen eye and slices through the malarkey of our society and reveals the whole truth of life in America. She tackles history and the present with aplomb. My favorite poem is “Unnamed.” Take a listen as she performs the piece in the video below:

Buy this collection today. I Shimmer Sometimes, Too by Porsha Olayiwola will challenge you, force you to look twice at your own behavior and comments, and move into a future where there is a bit more understanding and empathy for others. In a world where compassion is minimal at best, these are the collections that will have use recollecting our humanity.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Porsha Olayiwola is a writer, performer, educator and curator who uses afro-futurism and surrealism to examine historical and current issues in the Black, woman, and queer diasporas. She is an Individual World Poetry Slam Champion and is the current poet laureate for the city of Boston

Poem Generator Fun: Haiku

Haiku is one of those poetic forms that many teachers use to teach kids about rhythm and cadence. The form requires a first line of five syllables, a second line of seven syllables, and a third line of five syllables in its simplest form. There are other aspects of the haiku that bring the short poem a certain level of unexpected nuance, like its juxtaposition between two images — one appearing at the start of the poem and one at the end.

I want to share one of my haiku that was published in LYNX:

white skin, concrete head
red nose chilled with wind
stubborn, glued to you.

Let’s create some haiku! Share what poem you created in the comments.

Poem: Hope is the thing with feathers (254) by Emily Dickinson

I wanted to share a poem about hope today, and I’ve reached back to one of my favorite classic poems.

Hope is the thing with feathers (254)
By: Emily Dickinson

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

What brings you hope?