“I want to eat a color that means life," is the last line in Kristin Brace’s poem “January Robin," and devouring life perfectly describes what happens when reading the winning poems in this year’s Annual Kent County Poetry Competition sponsored by the Dyer-Ives Foundation. In this 46th annual competition, these talented poets were able to draw in the judges with vivid imagery and emotion, giving them a new taste of life through the eyes of the poets. Three prestigious preliminary judges narrowed down the entries, with the final judge being the revered Linda Nemec Foster, 2003-2005 Grand Rapids poet laureate. Her work has been seen in over three hundred literary journals and magazines. Foster has published nine poetry collections, and has even had her poetry put to music by musicians including Laszlo Slomovits, a Hungarian musician, in Cry of Freedom. As an alumna of Aquinas College, she founded the Contemporary Writers Series, which continues not only to gift college students but also the Grand Rapids community. Her work has been published in the United States and Great Britain along with being translated for other European countries. Foster said it was “a genuine pleasure" to read the poems written by the finalists and, consequently, found herself inspired by the prize-winning poems.
The First Division consisted of Kindergarten through 8th Grade. Foster commented that “it was obvious that three out of the four winning poems had been written by students of Rodney Torreson, former Grand Rapidsʼ Poet Laureate. It is a testament to his commitment as a teacher and mentor that, year after year, so many of his students ‘rise to the top’ in the Dyer-Ives Poetry Contest.” One of his students, Alex Cersosimo, won first place. His poem “Gas Station” depicts the barren landscape in a way that makes the gas station feel full. The objects in the poem, once abandoned, have come alive in their humanized characteristics. In second and third place came Rachel Mueller; a thirteen-year-old attending Our Savior Lutheran. The second-place poem, “The Evening Stroll," in Foster‘s view, has “every detail illuminate the old couple as they walk ’arm in arm’ down the sidewalk. Rachel brought a connection between the readers and the couple that left readers wanting to hear more, but unable to interrupt their short evening walks.” Her third place poem “What if Mothers Kept Children in Lockets?” focuses on the protectiveness of a mother. This is evident even when the children grow old; kept in a locket “a hundred years.” Evelyn Widmaier received honorable mention for her poem “The Penguin That Flew.” This witty rhyme sends the readers thoughts soaring. It demonstrates the belief that anything truly is possible.
The high school to undergraduate group, Second Division, featured intricate poems that enraptured the readers. Foster was “very impressed with the sophistication of content and powerful emotional truth that informed each of these truly amazing poems.” Kate Neis took first place with her poem “The Wavering of Childhood in the Gaze of the Moon.” This high school senior wrote with depth that showed the readers not only nature but an emotional metaphor of her family. In second place, Michelle Plumstead’s poem “Christmas Eve” had many startling lines that brought the poem to life. Her last line “I could hear the glass inside him somewhere breaking” shatters the silence that the poem has at the end, leaving an unsettling feeling. Anne Nesbitt showed her advanced skills in writing in her third-place poem “Ten Ways of Looking at a Forest.” This poem is filled with rich imagery that captivates the reader. According to Foster she is “always impressed when a poet channels another poet and makes that vision distinctly his/her own." Such is the case with this poem which “uses for inspiration Wallace Stevens' seminal poem, 'Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.'" According to Foster, the process can be a daunting challenge, but this piece goes beyond the formula. Nesbitt’s humanized portrayal of the nature brings a stronger connection between the readers and the poem. Michelle Plumstead also received an honorable mention. “Call of the Wild” tells the story of working at a museum. This elaborate poem makes the reader feel every object in the hot museum, giving a new dimension to a superb poem.
The Third Division had poems from graduate students to adults. Journalist Chris Galford’s first place poem “Grand River” centers around living on the Grand. This poem flows with descriptive movement. The last line, “for days ahead,” leaves the reader thinking about the poem long after it is read. Second-place winner Kristin Brace has many talents in the arts. Her poem “January Robin” has crisp images and distinctive lines that set this poem apart. Foster found that this poem was filled with “memory, travel, and a need to make sense of the past.” The way the lines are arranged make the reader slow down and individualize each line. Jill Marcusse, an alumna of Western Michigan University, wrote “Cousin Scott” and received third place. “The initial intent of this poem is deceptively simple: a character study of a man in a particular landscape,” wrote Foster. This intent is masked by the sad story of a veteran, his past still haunted by the events of the present. “Just Visiting” by Kristin Brace was given honorable mention. Her unusual arrangement of lines again play a role in her poem as they make the poem read more slowly. The line “If time heals, why can’t it just hurry up?” displays a wonderful use of irony. Her clever poem leaves the reader eagerly awaiting the next line. This division “had a unique voice that moved from the external landscapes of the world around us to the internal landscapes of human relationships: a brilliant balance.”
The 46th Annual Kent County Dyer-Ives Poetry Competition held true to its high standards. The winners delivered an insightful look into the world of poetry, eclectic poems that all displayed life in a new depth. Throughout the divisions, writers showed that anyone of any age can create a masterpiece. Foster discovered that “nothing is more exciting than the process of discovering wonderful and diverse voices creating such fine poems right here in our community.” They have set the bar high for next year’s contestants.