Winning Words: Poetry Contest Winners

poetry on the steps 2016

Poem in Your Pocket Day is highly anticipated day at JMRL, and this year the Library was excited to add a new program to the annual events: the JMRL/WriterHouse Adult Poetry Contest. With over 90 entries in the first year of the contest, it’s easy to see that there are a lot of poets in our area.

While there were many delightful entries, judge Ron Smith, Poet Laureate of Virginia, selected Kara West as this year’s winner for her poem “July 29, 1970, Anchorage,” and Amelia Williams as runner-up for “In the Field of the Ruined Piano.”

Both contestants, among many other incredible poets, shared their poems at JMRL’s annual Poetry on the Steps, an open mic night held on the steps of the Central Library where a crowd of verse-lovers gathered to listen to and read poetry aloud.

For the moment you’ve all been waiting for, here are this year’s winning entries for the Adult Poetry Contest:

July 29, 1970
by Kara West
My mother says minutes
after I was born, while the doctor was stitching
between her legs, he and my father talked
of salmon fishing. How in Alaska,
there’s nothing better. How, if you find a sweet spot,
you can stand and hook them all day. You can
cook one while catching another
and eat it when you need a break.
And how plump and pink and tender.
At four in the morning, my mother was too tired to raise
a fuss, much less her voice. She lay and dozed
to the soft, slightly sticky sound of white nurses’ shoes,
which she mistook in her dreams for the sucking
of her new babe already at its source,
plump and pink and tender.
When I did come to her, I was not pink,
but yellow. Jaundiced and not plump,
but stringy, long, with two mottled, blinking black spots.
“She’s a bananafish,” my mother cried, bursting into tears.
My father whispered promises of beautiful
salmon fishing trips he would never take me on
into my new ears.
In the Field of the Ruined Piano
by Amelia Williams
“It’s me or that piano.” Their covered wagon groans to a halt
in a lush Appalachian meadow beside the buffalo trace
that widens up to the Cumberland Gap. Callous & loud,
no tenderness for what she loves: her rosewood Chickering Grand–
all that’s left since typhoid took her family; she wed in fear
of spinsterhood & hunger, wears regret like a muslin duster.
His gray wolfhound cowers whenever he speaks. “Unload it,”
she says, voice shaky, but brow determined, my foremother
Henrietta Schwab Funk, adding in imperious German,
“Now you may leave. I am staying to await the next wagon.”
Her ochre-tinged cameo, in my red lacquer jewelry box
came with the gift of her story: she played for no one, only
meadow rue & crown vetch, a mournful Nocturne, whose opening
notes fluttered like a mourning dove. All day long, German dances;
that night she sheltered under the piano in her boiled wool cloak.
Sought a stream at dawn’s light, found berries, chewed red clover, played
until her fingers cramped & she grew afraid. Day five, listless, she lay
in the Chickering’s shadow, aching with hunger, almost resigned.
Near dusk, the squeak of wheels. Tomas Guillaume, Acadian
fur trader, in an un-sprung cart, heading for La Louisiane.
Language no use to them, but his voice was kind, his tone amused.
No room for a piano. His gestures said he’d buy her one
some day. They shared bread & jerky, were wed with smiles & glances;
en route to the delta they traded words like pearls: faucon, falke.
A great love she bore him, the story goes, celebrated
especially in the field of the ruined piano; they’d return
in spring after selling the pelts. Soundboard cracked, keys warped,
music stranger each year, an off-kilter cascade echoing
Tom’s bayou fiddle & stomp, Henrietta’s labor cries,
the squeezebox of a girl whose great niece gave me the cameo.

A Day in the Life of the Bookmobile

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The Bookmobile parked at the Colonnades, a retirement community.

While the majority of Library users have not experienced the Bookmobile first hand, this mobile library is an incredible resource to our community, providing library services to those around Charlottesville and Albemarle County that might not otherwise have access to them.  To help demystify the Bookmobile for those who haven’t yet been on board, read a little more about JMRL’s library-on-wheels, and take a virtual tour!

There are two JMRL staff members who work on the Bookmobile – Willow Gale and Alan Van Clief. Willow has been the Bookmobile Manager for 12 years, and handles the Bookmobile office and the Albemarle County stops. Alan Van Clief works part-time and handles the Charlottesville stops. The Bookmobile visits each stop twice a month – view the schedule here.

The Bookmobile has a home base in the lower level of the new Northside Library, which is where the majority of the Bookmobile book collection is held.  There are 1800-2000 books on this mobile library at any one time, which include a wide variety of genres (popular fiction, mystery, sci-fi, true crime, cook books, biographies, etc.) and formats (large print, audiobooks, graphic novels, etc.), across all age groups. Willow knows the types of things that many of her patrons at different stops will like, so she packs in authors and genres to please them. Of course, the Bookmobile also has access to the entire JMRL collection at any time, so if there is anything that a patron needs that isn’t on the bus, all he/she needs to do is place a hold on an item to have it sent out on the Bookmobile.

More than just a place to find good books – the Bookmobile is also a mobile community space. When people gather around the Bookmobile, they catch up with friends from their community. Even on wheels, libraries can help bring people together.

Now that you’ve learned more about it, are you ready to take the virtual tour?

We start out at the Northside Library at 705 W. Rio Rd. The parking lot is located at the back of the building, which is also where the Bookmobile is parked when it isn’t on the road.

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The back entrance of the new Northside Library, which houses the Bookmobile office and garage.

Here in the office, Willow and Alan load up books to take out on the Bookmobile and pull items for holds.  The shelves (below left) house the collection that doesn’t fit on the bus. Depending on what stops they are visiting, Willow and Alan pull different books for different stops to stock the Bookmobile, and take the holds for those stops as well. The hold shelf (below right) is divided by day and by stop.

Now hop on board the Bookmobile!  A ramp unfolds with the touch of a button, making the vehicle accessible to everyone. A tiny desk (below left) holds a laptop that connects to WiFi and allows Willow and Alan to place holds for patrons, check items in and out, and do on-the-g0 reference. Shelves are angled slightly so that books don’t fall when the Bookmobile is in motion.

Meet Willow Gale – (below) Willow greets patrons when they enter the Bookmobile. She has a knack for remembering a patron’s favorite genres and authors. If you’re reading a series, she will make sure to have the next one ready for you, and she’s always happy to take requests.

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Patrons are greeted by Willow when they enter the Bookmobile.

For more questions about the Bookmobile, feel free to email questions to Willow Gale ( or call the office at 434.973.7893 x2. And if you ever see the Bookmobile out and about, feel free to stop in for a visit.

Last but not least, here’s a short video so you can see what patrons think of their Bookmobile. This video was recorded by a student intern during the summer of 2014.


All the Light We Cannot See: Read-Alikes

Whether you are on the wait list for Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See or you’ve already read it and are dying for a book that brings you the same lyrical beauty and one-of-a-kind characters, JMRL’s got you covered.

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer – Andras Levi is a Hungarian-Jewish architecture student in Paris, 1937. After promising to deliver a mysterious letter, he falls into a relationship with the letter’s recipient, learning secrets that will alter the course of his family’s history. Similarities: a similar setting and overarching tone that touch on the
large scale impact of WWIIl; family dynamics.

The Book Thief by Mark Zusak – In this compelling tale, Death narrates the story of Liesel Meminger, who becomes enraptured by books that have been banned in WWII Germany. Also great as an audiobook. Similarities: the tenderness and innocence of childhood against the hideous backdrop of WWII; amazing imagery.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra “On the morning after the Feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones.” When eight-year-old newly-orphaned orphan Havaa is found in the woods, she’s cared for by her father’s best friend, Akhmed. With Havaa, he seeks refuge at an abandoned hospital where the remaining doctor, Sonja, treats the wounded in Continue reading