Your Voice: Joe Hoover, S.J. – inviting us in: the 2023 Foley poetry contest | (via America Magazine)

The Your Voice section of The Poet’s List showcases articles and blog posts written by poets. These pieces may or not be about poetry. Most often, they are on topics with which the poet finds passion. You can find more of these posts, here: Your Voice.

Full Title: “Building a world and inviting us in: the 2023 Foley poetry contest (via America Magazine)

By Joe Hoover, S.J.

Most reconsiderations of artists and works of art (Keanu Reeves, The Great Gatsby, “Vertigo,” to name just a few) take years or even decades to achieve. They were panned, now they are acclaimed. For the winner of this year’s Foley Poetry Contest, the “reconsideration” took a matter of days.

When “Letter to Myself While Learning to Read,”by Laurinda Lind, was submitted among the 600 or so poems we received this year—by the way, I encourage you to read the poem before reading this article about the poem—I read it, enjoyed it and put it on a list of poems to peruse again. This list eventually became 30 finalists, which I gave to our other two judges: Jill Rice, an O’Hare fellow at America, and James Torrens, S.J., a former America poetry editor.

When we shared with one another our top five poems, only one of the judges had “Letter” on his list. I did not. “Letter” was a nice poem, but maybe too… romantic? Nostalgic? A kid sleeps on a porch in the summer; her dad reads her classic children’s books.

Nevertheless, I read “Letter” again, but it still did not do it for me. I went back to the other finalists, spent more time with one poem in particular, and picked it as the winner. “Letter” would not even be one of the three runners-up. The next morning, realizing I was still not entirely settled on the winner, I read “Letter” again. And again, and again. Each time I saw something new. Each time it sank deeper, its heft became more evident. It was not tossing out trinkets of romance and nostalgia; it was doing something deeper.

“Letter” quickly builds a world and opens the door ajar for us to gaze inside. A child isn’t just sleeping on the front porch like a summertime adventure: She is made to sleep there the entire season (which season, exactly, we are not told) because the visiting cousin has been given the bed. She is exiled, feeling like “an afterthought,” something we can all identify with. At some point or another, we have all been left out on the screened-in front porch of someone else’s affections, no?

And the father who treks out into the porch to help the child read—kindly, fatherly—but the only time he will ever do so. Why? Heidi, Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson, the poet using these names not as biscuits thrown out to the nostalgic reader but because they align—even darkly—with the atmosphere of the story.

(continued via link below…)

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