2021 JMRL-WriterHouse Poetry Contest

2021 JMRL-WriterHouse Poetry Contest

The challenges surrounding the current pandemic may have continued into 2021, but JMRL and WriterHouse were very happy to once again offer the annual Poetry Contest for Adults this past March, which took place for the sixth time this year.  

A team of judges selected finalists from all the entries, which were then judged by the esteemed Luisa Igloria, Poet Laureate of Virginia and Professor of Creative Writing and English at Old Dominion University. We are pleased to announce the winner and runner-up here and share their words for others to enjoy.

The winning entry was “Carolina Wrens,” written by poet Mary McCue, who will receive the prize of a $200 Visa gift card. Poet Laura Wallace was chosen as the runner-up, for her work “Aphasia”; she receives the prize of a $100 Visa gift card. Luisa Igloria had the following to say about the selections:

“Carolina Wrens”

The poet observes such a careful economy of language and image in this poem, yet doesn’t sacrifice any generosity of attention. Birds call through the branches with “voices so clear and bright” as if to illustrate the promise of persistence. But the season might have arrived too early for nesting, for “song and intent.” At the end of the day, there are only “feathers and chips of bone” on the porch. “Living alone, one can believe anything,” says the speaker; but though the world might not exactly last, at least there are these small returns. 

“Aphasia”

What would we do with no access to even the most ordinary of words, without the ability to communicate in speech? In “Aphasia,” the poet captures a beloved’s struggle with a disorder which has damaged their ability to process language. Though the faltering brain can still “illuminate a scan,” there is such ache and yearning here along with the hope that “you will remember … one morning/ just in time.”   

Please consider these comments as you read the poems below (note: formatting attempts were made to be as close to the original as possible):

“Carolina Wrens” by Mary McCue,
Winner

What they are saying this morning
of dew fresh grass
I do not know,

but I understand happiness
as the pair flutters 
in and out of Stewartia branches—

voices so clear and bright
I’d swear the tiny white petals
opened a month early.

Hidden in a fork of the tree,
a thatched pagoda-like house,
leaves, twigs and milkweed silk
spilling from its lip.

For weeks I’ve admired the diligence
of these shy birds hopping from bush pile
to nest and felt blessed
by song and intent.

Living alone, one can believe anything.
I believed they belonged forever
like the morning glories
of blue, dark blue and rose,

those delicate climbers
that appear every spring
wrap themselves around
a reed, a pole.

But hours later, on a porch step,
only feathers and chips of bone.

“Aphasia” by Laura Wallace,
Runner-Up

One morning a ragged fingernail scratches 
deep within the brain a soft and lonely itch. 

A yearning not to speak, not to need so strongly 
to be heard or to divine the word that will relieve all 
hunger, quell all war and cruelty, slake a planet’s 
thirst for peace and oxygen, oxygen and peace. 

This changes to desire for tea, just tea, it’s what you always do 
but you can’t recall what tea is called, its early-morning sound or 
meaning, in which disorderly cabinet it waits or how it’s made. 
Instead you head again to bed and start to write until you read 
what you have typed and it 
is gibberish. 

The smart and urgent residents prick and quiz religiously until you 
finally reply in ways that mean as much to them as once had meant 
to you: the will-yous, won’t-yous, can-yous, can’t-yous collected 
over time before you learned this day that all a human needs when 
questions come is yes or no. DNR? Okay? 

They let you sleep or make you sleep and later on illuminate a scan. 
A white spot sends out a beam from the sly cupboard where tea lives, 
where words are stored in wild and looping canyons full of tiny jars 
with golden lids and colors fragrant as continents of flowers. 

You’d had no idea, really none, how a pilot might require 
such skill and concentration. 

You find no secret speech on peace or Paris or the planet but 
when they say the stroke was small you can still go, joy roars 
in your chest as loudly as the engines making snaking, filthy 
trails that fall away below your feet. And though you know 
there might be a word like love you’ve overlooked, you hope 
you will remember it one morning 
just in time.

Thank you to all the entrants for participating in the contest, and congratulations once again to the winners!

Local professors to visit JMRL for college chat

The transition from high school to college can be tricky to navigate. Get a head start at the Professors’ Tips for the College Bound chat at the Gordon Avenue Library on Wednesday, March 11 at 7pm.

During this insightful talk, authors and local professors Dana T. Johnson and Jennifer E. Price will outline some of the important concepts in their book “Will This Be on the Test? What Your Professors Really Want You to Know About Succeeding in College”.

As an experienced college professor, Price said that succeeding in college is more than just being book-smart.

“Over the years, colleagues and I have noticed students coming to college with less knowledge than ever about their professors’ expectations and of college in general,” Price said.

“The educational system in college is very different from that of high school, and most college freshmen expect it to be similar.”

The book focuses on how students can meet their professors’ expectations and how to develop healthy academic habits in college.

Price said only about 60% of students who begin college are expected to graduate within six years, and far fewer will graduate within four years.

“With high price tags on college tuition, room, and board, the cost of a few extra semesters or of beginning a degree with nothing to show for it is unfortunate,” she said.

“Simply understanding what is expected of you and having a plan for how to meet those expectations will greatly increase your chances of success.”

Community college students planning to transfer to a four-year college, current college students, and younger high school students are also invited to attend this chat and utilize the advice.

The Gordon Avenue Library is located at 1500 Gordon Avenue, Charlottesville, Virginia 22903.

For more information, visit jmrl.org.

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Celebrate Black History Month at JMRL

Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history.

Throughout the month of February, there are a number of book clubs and events being held at the JMRL branches to help celebrate.

For a list of what’s happening, visit JMRL’s Black History Month 2020 webpage.

There are other resources on this webpage, such as lists of African American authors and books, eBooks/Audiobooks, and resources for historical research.

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The poster above is an example of one of JMRL’s Black History Month events. This event will be at the Northside Library and more information can be found by visiting JMRL’s Facebook page.