Last year, love was all you needed to enter the Common Good Books annual poetry competition. This year, love is not required---but you do need to revive the lost art of letter-writing.
The theme of this year's competition is "Dear You," and the bookstore is looking for poems in the form of letters--and they don't have to be nice ones, either. (Just poetic.) (And to real, living people.)
Proprietor Garrison Keillor has upped the prize money to $5,000, which will be divided into three $1,000 grand prizes and four $500 prizes for "poems of merit." This surely makes the bookstore's competition one of the most lucrative in the country for a single poem. Last year's competition, with prizes of $4,000, drew more than 1,000 entries.
Here are the rules for this year's competition:
1) The contest it open to anyone living within the United States.
2) Entries must be a single poem, in the form of a letter to a real, living person.
3) Entries must be original work, previously unpublished, and the author must have full rights to the material.
4) Only one entry per person.
5) Entries must be mailed to Common Good Books, 38 S. Snelling Av., St. Paul, MN 55105 and postmarked no later than April 4, 2015.
Winners will be announced at noon on Sunday, April 19, at a celebration at Macalester College's Weyerhaeuser Chapel.
Kristal Leebrick's prize-winning love poem has it all: winter, North Dakota, young love, first love, the northern lights, sentimentality, and the wise perspective of later years. It's evocative without being sweet, nostalgic without being mawkish, and it attracted the admiration of the three fine judges of Common Good Books' second annual Love Poems competition, who awarded it first prize.
Leebrick lives in St. Paul, edits a monthly newspaper, and is the author of "Dayton's: A Twin Cities Institution."
The four runners up in the competition are:
Edwin Romond of Wind Gap, Penn.
Kathleen Novak of Minneapolis
Ann Harrington of St. Paul
and Chet Corey of Bloomington.
Judges were Garrison Keillor, Patricia Hampl and Tom Hennen; Leebrick wins $1,000 and the four runners-up each with $250. May they spend it on fine pens, thick journals, and lots of books!
Here is the winning poem:
New Year Love
I remember our breath
in the ciy air
and how the northern lights gathered
in a haze at the horizon,
spread up past the water tower
then vanished into the dark.
I remember that January night in North Dakota:
We left the dance,
the hoods of our dads' air force parkas zipped tight,
our bare hands pulled into the coat sleeves.
into the wind
down the drifting sidewalks of our eight-grade lives
to the brick-and-clapboard row houses on Spruce Street.
We ducked between buildings
and you pulled me close.
A flickering light from someone's TV screen.
A kitchen window.
Your fingers tracing my face.
Your hair brushing my eyes.
Your skin, your lips.
I remember that January night in North Dakota,
but I can't remember you rname.
Common Good Books' second love poem competition drew more than 1,000 entries--"five shopping bags worth," writes Garrison Keillor (pictured) on his Common Good Books blog.
Keillor and fellow poet-judges Patricia Hampl and Tom Hennen read poems about all kinds of love--love of cheese and tomatoes (that's two separate poems), cats and dogs (definitely separate poems), men and women, hymns and helmets.
They narrowed the field from 1,100 submissions to 25 finalists; most of the poets are from Minnesota but definitely not all of them.
The winner will be announced at a public event at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, April 27, at Weyerhaeuser Chapel at Macalester College.
Here are the finalists--the name of the poem, the author, the hometown:
"Map," Melissa Anderson, Minneapolis
"Love Poem, Late in Life," Chet Corey, Bloomington
"Anniversary," Kathleen Donkin, Lubec MAINE
"Lexiphilia," Julie Excell, Denver CO
"Inheritance," Patricia Kelly Hall, Roseville
"They Will Appear Lovely In Your Eyes," Jennifer Halling, Leavenworth KS
"Shoveling," Ann Harrington, St. Paul
"An Iowa Song," Marsha Hayles, Pittsford NY
"Kinnickinnic," Michael Hill, Austin TX
"Pershing Avenue, 1960," Holly Iglesias, Greenville SC
"The Way You Move," Brett Jenkins, St. Paul
"Custodian," Maureen Cassidy Jenkins, Carnegie PA
"Galaxies," Ken Katzen Columbia MD
"New year love," Kristal Leebrick, St. Paul
"At Louie Arco’s," Kathleen Novak, Minneapolis
"Migration," Nancy-Jean Pement, Thousand Oaks, CA
"String," Jessica Lind Peterson, Brooklyn Park
"Sonnet (for K B)," John Richard, Minneapolis
"One Good Thing," Edwin Romond, Wind Gap PA
"Full Moon, Almost," Susan Solomon, St. Paul
"Parallel Lives," Donna Spector, Warwick NY
"Rondeau for My Grandmother," Marjorie Thomsen, Cambridge MA
"Sonnet for a sister who was once my best friend," Francine Marie Tolf,Minneapolis
"To Carla", Cary Utterberg, Golden Valley
"Every Morning," Mark R. Warren, Phoenix AZ
When you saw that Garrison Keillor and Common Good Books had decided to offer a $1,000 prize for the winner of this year's love poem contest--and $250 for each of the four runners-up--you probably thought, Heck. I'll never win. It'll probably go to someone really good, like Walt Whitman, or somebody.
Fear not! Prithee! 'Zounds! And other vaguely poetic sounding exclamations! Because the bookstore is hoping to level the playing field a little--bring you up, so to speak, to Whitman's level. And so, on its website, it is offering free advice on how to write a love poem. This advice is from the tops in the field. No, not Walt Whitman (someone needs to break the news to you that Mr. Whitman is dead), but from others just as good (and very much alive).
And so we have advice from Jeff Shotts, executive editor of Graywolf Press and editor of some of the finest poets being published today. Also, advice from Washington State's poet laureate Kathleen Flenniken, Tony Hoagland (whose newest book came out in March) (and was edited by Jeff Shotts), and many others. More advice will pop up between now and the competition deadline of April 15, so check back.
The advice is sound and simple and much of it applies to good writing in general: Be direct and intimate, be fully honest, be unexpected. But of course, since they are poets, they said this so much better. Here's a sampling:
"While writing a love poem, you must ignore everyone but the beloved." (Shotts.)
"I learned that love poems could be more than just 'let me count the ways' and contain the dark as well as the light.." (Flenniken.)
"The love poet is advised to twist the data convincingly towards the eccentric as well as the esoteric. Show the beloved emptying a mousetrap. Describe the expression on the mouse’s face." (Hoagland)
So. Ready? Submit your poem (with a signed release, available on the Common Good Books site) by April 15. Winners will be judged by Garrison Keillor, Patricia Hampl and Tom Hennen--fine St Paul poets, all.
And even if you don't win the $1,000, when this is all over you will have written a love poem. And that's no small thing.
A week or two ago, I posted here a long list of prominent writers who are coming to town to speak at various reading series—Talking Volumes, Pen Pals, and the others. But that, of course, was only part of the list of writers you can go listen to around the Twin Cities area.
So here’s a second list—not comprehensive, by any means, but a list of some of the more notable writers who will be speaking at 10 Twin Cities bookstores this autumn. It’s an impressive list—Sue Grafton, Alice McDermott, Jhumpa Lahiri and Louise Erdrich, Pulitzer Prize-winner Paul Harding, local favorite Garrison Keillor, Jamie Ford and Jesse Ventura….
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