Inside the Winning Poems of the KDL 2O13 Word Wise Poetry Competition

The 2013 KDL Poetry Contest Word Wise selected ten winning submissions, poems that certainly stood out among the numerous poems that were submitted. The judge of this year’s contest was once again the illustrious poet, David Cope, current poet laureate of Grand Rapids, who carefully read the poems and “narrowed them down to those that show talent or a flair for words, and those that concern subjects that matter--- work that needed to be written and revealed basic skill in poetic compositional techniques.” One of these poems that clearly related to the ambitious standards was Alex Courtade’s “A Day’s Worth of Broken Haikus,” which was described by Mr. Cope as “the most complex, sustained sequential poem I have ever seen by one so young.”
These poems expressed a lot about the writers themselves, as some followed the daily activities of the poet and their values. Kate Ruerdanz’s poem, “That Sweet Aroma,” takes our senses on a journey through Swing dancing in downtown Grand Rapids and getting a first kiss. She explained the importance of this poem for herself, “For me, this poem is equally about the positive aspects of my time being 15 and 16: I started wearing skirts because of swing dancing, and in those two things I found a new self-confidence which was rooted in my identity as a female.”
Not only are we able to see the how poets values themselves, we see their depiction of the world. Stephanie Sutherland’s “The Script of the Lost” takes you through the horrific steps of suicide and its hidden anguish. “The full horror of the poem is not simply in the tale itself,” as seen by Cope: “This is the script of the lost, a tale that is repeated over and over as victims cannot find their way out of the silence and the smile that hides their pain, while others… cannot see the pain until it is too late.” Problems are looked at differently in Makenzie Hutching’s poem “Stars”. This poem notes that despite the troubles in the world with a child trapped in a nightmare and an officer at war, these characters are still able to notice the simple things in life like the stars. This new spin on the topic of battle and terror relates to one of Makenzie’s favorite things about writing, “…everyone has their own perspective. No two pieces of writing are the same. People can voice their opinion, but unless it is documented, it is lost forever, and the words are not remembered. But with writing, things can be revisited.” War, in another poem, “The Broken Poet” by Paige Jackson was extremely detailed in imagery. David Cope notices that the poem “contains vivid imagery of war, a love story that ends with a veteran sustained by his wife’s compassion yet who cannot free himself of his memories.”
Some poets go back to visit past generations in their poems, instead of writing about themselves. Hannah Fleming’s poem, “Opening the worn Cigar Box in the Basement” tells a fascinating story that came from a visit to her grandmother’s house. She tells us how this idea came about, “I was looking through a box in the basement of my grandma’s things and found a cigar box full of letters she’d written to my grandpa during World War II when he was in the navy. I opened up one of the letters, read the first paragraph, and then realized that I felt like I was intruding on her privacy. Still, it was so amazing to have a glimpse into the life of my grandma when she was young. For years, I had been intrigued by her romance with my grandpa, and after reading the letter I spent a lot of time imagining what her life was like.” David Cope was impressed by the “subtlety…in what is not stated: he [the grandfather] must have survived, as his descendent is now finding that piece of the puzzle that time presents all who want to know the love that made them what they are through the voices that came before them.”
Not all of these poetic ideas came from events in the writer’s lives. Alistair Poole’s “A Ghazal in a Shadow” followed a trail of his other poems. When asked about his inspiration he said, “Inspiration is a tricky little thing. It’s often hard to pin down exactly what causes the inspiration. In this case, I was sort of inspired by other things I was writing at this time. My focus on shadows was, I guess, sort of a phase I was going through. There probably is some root inspiration to it, but if there is, it has long been lost to the depths of time. As for style, I chose from browsing through a catalog of poetry forms. I picked one that looked fun and rolled with it.” David Cope describes this poem as “clever in its simplicity”. Karina Bursch uses multiple resources to find inspiration, including from other poets. One of her favorite poets she says is, “Robert Frost, because he fits my terms of a “quintessential American Poet.” I love the way that he incorporated his love for his country into several of his poems. His writing has influenced my style of writing a little bit, because many of his poems are based around nature, and I have also written several poems with aspects of nature for my subject.” Karina’s winning poem “Unseen Actors” does not follow her typical nature poems, and instead has the reader tripping over cords in an orchestra pit. This poem really sets the stage in a way that puts you in the middle of the chaotic scene.
While some poems take weeks, months, even years to write, there are some skilled writers that can sit down and whip out a masterpiece in a short time. Two of such poets include Emily Anderson and Bethany Garvon. Emily proved that writing the poem is not always the most difficult part of creating a work of art, which she elaborates upon here: “I wrote it before church while sitting in a pew. It took me awhile, but I have to have that certain inspiration, otherwise I can’t write the way I want. I had checked out a library book with hundreds of poems in it, and one of the subjects was love. I instantly thought that I should write about the perfect kiss…I think within an hour I had created “The Perfect Kiss.” Sometimes the most challenging part of a poem is letting someone else judge it. Bethany’s “Watching the Stars” took “about fifteen minutes to write. I revised it about six times until I was completely finished, though. I wrote it in 2012 and finally built up enough courage to enter the KDL Poetry contest.”
David Cope perfectly sums up these poems and the skills of their writers, “By and large, the winners in the contest are young writers who show promise in their work. The path to a professional career is a long one, involving enormous study and application, a variety of experiences and attentiveness to human suffering and struggle, a capacity for compassionate engagement, and it is fraught with many complexities, disappointments, and moments of excitement. A few manage to make a career from the bright beginnings displayed here.” These bright beginnings are going to be difficult to live up to for next year’s contest.

Through the 3rd Eye was supported in its inception by the Grand Rapids Humanities Council and is currently made possible by continued volunteer effort and private support. Copyright 2013.