Daring Words: The 2016 Foley Poetry Contest

In “Driving Without Insurance,” Charles Lobaito declares: “Throw me in jail...insurance companies/ Make a killing on good drivers & rake/ Them over the fat Santa Claus coals./ $312 a month is too much!”

Otter Jung Allen writes in “A Want Gone Quiet”: “Once,/ I was so lonely/ that my father gave me doubt as a sibling/ As he found new gods/ in a long needle and hot spoon/ I was given the company of denial.”

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“The Cardinal” by Precious Makazha—a quiet poem set in the Vatican—may be the first poem in decades America has received about a cardinal of the church that does not rail against cardinals of the church.

Hildegarde Schaut, 96 years old from Lena, Wis., gets close to condensing the corporal works of mercy, or maybe all of Catholic social doctrine, in three stanzas: “The good wishes we extend/ by visits or by letters/ we must take time out/ making folks feel better.”

The poem “Upon Seeing ‘The Goonies’ for the First Time” competed with “Can You Be Happy in a Chinese Starbucks?” for best title.

The note Kamila Kaminska-Palarczyk writes introducing her poem “She Cried Wolf” could well have been the poem itself: “Inspired by a stop sign and an elderly Latino woman attempting to cross the road, I cringed when the bag of groceries fell from her arms.... I write to you to warn about the dangers of crossing the road, because you never quite know when oranges will be squashed by a threatening Prius.”

Between Jan. 1 and March 31 over 1,000 poems were sent in for America’s annual Foley contest. For more than a few of the entrants, it was clear they were not necessarily writing to win a contest and its $1,000 prize. They were writing because they had to. Something inside had to get out, regardless of what it might profit: the death of a spouse, a spiritual epiphany, a startling nature scene.

Many were written about social issues. In his submission, Bavid Dailey defends the Islamic faith. Gideon Cecil’s poem advocates for Syrian refugees. In “Good Night America,” Max Beasley attacks American-style capitalism. (“Washington marries Wall Street and we pray for a divorce.”) You rarely see the opposite: politically conservative poems that, say, criticize the influx of refugees, that rail against Islamic extremism or defend “corporate America.” Why is that? (I’m not trying to be coy, either; really, why is there so little “conservative” art?)

We received several entries from high school students, some of which we will publish on our poetry Twitter feed (@americaliterary). In “To Sin or Not to Sin,” Desire Hopkins speaks plainly—not unlike Paul in the Letter to the Romans—what we all have felt: “I know what not to do, but I do it anyways./ I know what not to say, but I say it anyways…. What if maybe I’m not a good person, and that’s why I sin?/ My heart tells me I’m good, but sometimes my actions tell me otherwise.”

In “Anchor,” Lillian Marquis writes about the person who is the most dependable in her life. “When all seems lost, I know just who to go to/ Recently it can’t be my best friend, so it must be you/ If I needed to hide a body, I could put it in your trunk.” How disturbingly wonderful to be adored by the type of person who someday may also need your help hiding a corpse.

A fair number of the youth poems were about people dying, Ace Dzurovcik’s “Not How I Thought I’d Die” being the most vivid of the batch: “And all that’s left of me and my tattered dream,/ is in the crushed car at the junkyard,/ in which I fell asleep.”

The most heartbreaking poem we received from a high school student was Emily Baker’s “Arithmophobia.” Maybe every school teacher ought to read it at least once a day. “I see numbers and I freeze up/ ... / Instead of burrowing into my mind and claiming it/ they simply bounce off/ like my skin is made of metal…. ‘You should know this by now/..../ ‘You’re not trying hard enough.’/.../ Maybe I am just stupid/ Maybe I am just lazy/ Or maybe I’m just scared of numbers.

As for the Foley winner, the judges Erin Grace, Ebony Amoroso and I selected the lovely poem “Claim,” by Shannon Camlin Ward. The three contest runners-up—“Not Jumping,” by m.nicole.r.wildhood; “The Visual Food Encyclopedia,” by Gabrielle Campagnano; and “At the Edge of the Mississippi,” by Anna Elizabeth Schmidt—will be published in subsequent issues.

Composing a poem, maybe for the first time, and sending it out for people to judge is not a small proposition. For some it can be a fairly brave thing. I am grateful for and I applaud all who submitted their work to our contest, who dared to create something that would not have existed otherwise.

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Larry Mancin
1 year 6 months ago
It's sad enough that the Church is fast becoming a predominately sociopolitical organization, we now have to separate art into "liberal" and "conservative." I guess that creating divisions is the new rule in every aspect of life. Even if a poet ("liberal" or "conservative," and I'm not trying to be "coy") were to create a politically negative poem would politically correct publications like America publish it? I doubt it.

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