May 29, 2018

Stephen A. DiBiase Poetry Contest Reading, May 6

This is the reading many of us have been waiting for since last October when it was opened up for submissions, or at least since March when the winners were announced. This is the 3rd year local poet Bob Sharkey & his family have run this unique event to remember a Viet Nam vet & friend of Bob’s, who died in 1973 at the age of 27. What makes this unique is that the contest asks for only 1 poem from each contestant, but that poem can be any length, any style, published or unpublished. This year there were 255 entries from 33 countries, including 41 from Ireland & 10 from Nigeria; 86 New York State poets entered.

It was a grand gathering of mostly local poets, with notable exceptions, Martin Willitts Jr. who drove over from Syracuse to read his First Place poem “Open Wounds,” about the trauma of war & its aftermath, & Hannah Bleier, a Finalist, who came up from Brooklyn to read her poem “The Word” & said she hoping to find the kind of experience that she did indeed find here.

I’ve included graphics of both the list of Contest Awards and Finalists, & the program of the reading itself, but will mention some of the highlights. Howard Kogan read “The Selective Lad” by Okere Godsent of Lagos, Nigeria which won the “Kogan/Wilcox International Award;” when Bob was telling us about the entries he was receiving from around the world, sometime after President Trump talked about “shit-hole countries,” both Howard & I, separately, suggested that Bob have a separate award for a poet from one of Trump’s disparaged countries/continents, thus the award for Okere Godsent.

Maroula Blades from Berlin, Germany was so thrilled by her High Honorable Mention for her poem “Thembi’s Initiation” that she sent a recording of her reading the poem which Bob played, a grim pantoum on female genital mutilation. Bob Sharkey read Olivia McKee’s “Antimony” & Mary Panza read Rebecca Schumejda’s 3rd place poem “Then He Begged Me to Go Back with Him and Rescue the Others,” both poets were at paid readings elsewhere. Mary also read her own Honorable Mention “I want you to know/ I was raped.” Nancy Klepsch read a couple of Honorable Mention poems, Chidinma Opaigbeogu’s “Afternoon” about the war in Biafra, & Lani O’Hanlon’s (from Waterford, Ireland) “Until the Young are Reared.”

I had the honor of reading with Bob Sharkey the 2nd Place poem by Richard Foerster, “The Hours,” a description of a usual work day using the monk’s canonical hours as a structure (originally published in Poetry).

Some poets who made rare appearances reading in Albany were Ken Holland reading “Boom Times at the Shake Shanty,” Jodi Ackerman Frank who read “I Survived,” & Mary Kathryn Jablonski with a revised version of a moving, whimsical poem I’d heard her read at Caffè Lena “On Hearing that Crayola is Retiring Dandelion.”

Speaking of poems I’ve heard previously at open mics, there was Paul Amidon with “The Three Kings” about schoolmates going off to war, Kathleen Smith reading “Rhapsody in Blue, Playing at the Egg in Albany,” & Sylvia Barnard read an archeological poem “Cat Print.” Mimi Moriarty read her poem about a poet struggling with immortality “A Poet Who Cannot Support Himself Takes a Job Pouring Cement.”

Bob introduced each poet & poem by reading the bios the poets submitted & their statement about their influences, poetic & otherwise. He also shared with us his memory of knowing Stephen A. DiBiase, & ended the reading with excerpts from the longest entry to the contest, a poem by Sylvia Anne Telfer from Scotland “Warp Wolves.”

All us, winners & other entrants, are most grateful to Bob Sharkey & his coterie of judges who made such a reading possible -- & we are looking forward to once again entering out "best" poem to this now annual event.

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