May 6, 2014

Winners of the First New York State “Poetry Unites – My Favorite Poem” Contest Announced

Marie Howe, State Poet of the State of New York and Corinne Evens, a philanthropist, in coordination with the Academy of American Poets, the New York State Writers Institute, and the New York State Office of Cultural Education, are pleased to announce the winners of the 2014 Poetry Unites contest for the best short essay about a favorite poem. The winners of the contest, which was open to all New York State residents, are in alphabetical order:

Marita Boulos, literacy program coordinator from Rose Points, Clinton County, NY, for her straightforward and eloquent prose that candidly brings John Donne’s “Song” into her village.

Rosanna Oh, from Jericho, Long Island, a student, for her deeply personal response to the humility and precision in Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays.”

Matthew Powers, a teacher from Syracuse, NY, for the way he realistically invokes the incantatory and communal nature of poetry in Mark Strand’s “Lines for Winter.”

Paul White a healthcare provider from Cheektowaga, NY, for recognizing the talismanic power and healing capacity of poetry in David Ignatow’s “Sunday at the State Hospital.”

The winners will each be featured in short film profiles directed by Ewa Zadrzynska, which will be posted on as well as the State Library, and NYS Writers Institute’s websites, and may be broadcast by public television across the United States. They will be awarded a Certificate of Merit and invited to a celebratory film screening on October 18, 2014 in NYC.

The Jury also awarded Certificates of Merit to six additional participants :

Helen Ruggieri, poet, from Olean, NY, for her essay on James Wright’s poem: “A Blessing”. Louis Altman, a lawyer from Albany, NY, for his essay on Wallace Steven’s poem “The Sense of Order.” Philip McCallion, Ph.D. from Albany, NY, for his essay on Seamus Heaney’s poem “Digging.” Sharon de Silva from Schenectady, NY, for her essay on Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son.” Martin Mahler retiree from Brooklyn, NY, for his essay on Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem: “Lament.” Ben Kroup, editor, writer, from Waterford NY, for his essay on Kristtijonas Donelaitis’ poem “Metai.”

Each of their essays will be published on the Academy of American Poets website.

The New York State Poetry Unites contest is based on a model that has been held successfully in Europe. Developed and produced by Ewa Zadrzynska for the Evens Foundation, the first “Poetry Unites – My Favorite Poem” contest was held in Poland in 2008, where it has since become an annual event. In 2012 the Evens Foundation extended the contest to other European countries. So far the contest has been held twice in Germany, five times in Poland, and once in Bulgaria.

Ewa Zadrzynska, who produces the short films of the winners talking about their favorite poem said, “The project, which celebrates the integrating power of poetry, introduces the medium as an instrument of mutual understanding in the world. The goal is to promote poetry and poetry readers in the hope that their enthusiasm will be contagious to thousands, if not millions, of others.”

Out of the 124 essay submission 18 were written about Robert Frost poems, and four on Mary Oliver’s. Edna Vincent St Millay, Langston Hughes, and William Butler Yeats poems were the subject of three essays each. Other poets chosen by the NYS residents were written by Elizabeth Bishop, Shane Koyczan, Wallace Stevens, and John Donne, among others.

Among the 124 favorite poems of the NYS residents, only two were written in other than English language, and were read in translation. The poems were written by Polish Nobel Prize winners: Wislawa Szymborska and Czeslaw Milosz.

Seventy percent of the submissions were from women. The youngest participant was 10, the oldest 95.

The largest number of entries came from the Albany area and NYC.

This is my entry, an essay in the form of a poem:

an Homage to the Poem by Bob Kaufman

Believe in this, the nuns would tell us
then tell us what to believe.
As I read, discovered poetry
the dead poets, the living poets
Kerouac, Ginsberg, Gary Snyder,
the black, Buddhist Bob Kaufman
wandering in a vow of peaceful silence
his Golden Sardines conveniently fit
in the patch pocket of my corduroy jacket
along with a notebook & a ball-point pen
I found what to believe — poetry
radiating young breast, the image of peace
in the mushroom time, beliefs for me
not the sick controllers, not the Drill Sergeants
the Priests or the Bosses infesting 
society’s garments telling me what
to think, what to believe, but me believing.
In New York City, walking to the Tin Palace
the night sidewalk was torn into intricate shreds
with the glitter of broken glass, then put
back together again among the musicians
& poets & artists at the bar.
Sometime between the nuns & now
I found this prayer of a poem to recite
on my walk to work each morning
through the Park trying not to hear
the screechings mouthed in mildewed editorials
when I reached my desk
& over the years I continue to let the voices
of dead poets ring loudly in my ears
& the voices of live poets around me
the young poets in this City of poetry
creating the music of this new century
standing vigils, marching for peace
still rising above the mushroom time.
He says it twice, “Believe,” so that
you are sure to hear it — & believe.

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