For this year’s poetry contest, students were asked to write an abecedarian.
Dr. Richard Strauch, our faculty guest judge, was so taken with the task that he contributed his own verse to the mix:
Abecadarian poems have to
Be among the most
Challenging structures to negotiate, for the
Danger is one of pedantry: how
Easy it is to lose sight of the
Forest of beautiful language for the trees of the rules. Yet
Good poetry acheives both; indeed, Igor Stravinsky’s words
Have equal meaning here: The more I constrain myself, the more
I free myself.
Just as I found myself looking for adherence to rules, so I
Knew a good abecedarian poem would
Let me forget the rules and simply speak to
No poem emerged as one that should be out of contention.
On the other hand, each
Quite individually, in its own voice,
Reaching out to me.
Selecting one winner, or even
Two, proves to be a challenge.
(Uff da, I would say, if I were Norwegian, and not so
Very German, as I am.) Nevertheless, I am always so impressed
With Whitworthians’ work (sextuple-U!):
Yes, literary Pirates trump
Zags any day of the week.
Shannon Ritchie (’15) has won first prize and a $50 gift card to Auntie’s bookstore for her poem “Cloud-Watching.”
Shannon explains: “I’m a junior English writing major/math minor who will be graduating in December. It’s easy to identify me across campus from my hot pink Doc Martens, faded bomber jacket from the 80s, or my flamboyant My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic backpack. Next summer I will attend a Masters in Teaching program with the immediate goal of teaching high school English and possibly mathematics. However, my true aspiration is to eventually become the quirky creative writing teacher of a misunderstood junior college – and own pet seahorses.”
Dr. Strauch had this to say about Ritchie’s poem: “I was intrigued by the two poems that used the abecedarian form to evoke childhood – the ABCs are so elemental (and elementary), and the pairing of form and content seems a brilliant wedding. What I loved about ‘Cloud-watching’ was that a set of lines that seemed at first contrived held the key for me: Is ‘simply existing’ an illusion? I can look back to an idyllic childhood and see the extent to which my life, too, was defined by order, rules, structure – and at the same time, this is the tension of the abecedarian poem. The language is evocative (I don’t know why, but it put me in the mind of Samuel Barber’s Knoxville 1915), and as the poem called me to remember my own childhood, it also invited me to re-examine it.”
Away meant simply existing
between happiness and myself.
Coloring outside of the lines I
daily sketched freedom into my routine,
earning a name for my construction.
Fridays brought kite flying in the
garden. Watching patterns
hurry away from grounded life,
I always felt completely
justified in my desire to be.
Kenton lived three houses down
Lincoln Drive. We would pick
marionberries together under each
new moon celebrating adolescence,
optimism our only language.
Pies required precision, intentional
quietness. Windows cracked, scent
reached to the outdoors inviting
seasons to stay. Baking meant
that neighbors may stop to say hello.
Under umbrellas we defied the
varying seasons. Resisting any
warnings I reminded Kenton:
x-rays had shown that all
young people were missing, like
zoo animals, the will to be.
Dana Stull (’16) won second prize and a $20 Auntie’s gift card for her poem “Brittlebush.” Dana explains: “I write (poems and comics) and read (everything) and make pies (my favorite being rhubarb).”
Of her poem, Strauch said, “Psalm 119 is, of course, one of the more famous abecedarian forms, though that is lost in translation. What would an abecedarian psalm in English look like? What if David were living in the American southwest? There is a beautiful trajectory to this poem, a sense of advent, a quality of light triumphing over darkness. An empty dance gives way to an excess of joy. This was a poem upon which I found myself meditating much as I would a psalm, and which drew me in by the way that the language of confession and praise engaged all of the senses.”
All of it—the quiet
bloom that stuns,
calls me out of this empty
dance. I stood there, asked
everyone. A quiet
flight, the space between
I asked; demanded
love, held blind in
me. I stood there, gave
overwhelmed, my hands
pressed with morning—
quilted in a strange
rescue. He breathes,
tremor of ground
underneath my feet. Gives
voice to me, this
excess of joy, called out
EL major Erin Kreycik (’15) received an honorable mention for her poem “On Being Trapped In the Royal Court Theatre.” Strauch claimed, “This poem really intrigued me. It may be due to my discipline, but I found this poem to be one of the most musical in quality – reading it aloud enlivened it more to me that simply reading it on the page. There were several turns of phrase that caught both my ear and my imagination: ‘a thousand things that ran lapping down the aisles like dark light’; ‘rows of handkerchief voices’; ‘No-sleep Xanax churchhood.’ This is a poem whose meaning is not readily apparent, and yet I have the feeling that, as with a great piece of music, the longer I live with it, the more it speaks to me.”
On Being Trapped In the Royal Court Theatre
All you want at first’s it all. It. All. Like
boards, like blue. Like creak—
creak. Carpetless. Slow.
Don’t ask what it is, or why. It. All.
Every face. You, too.
First this. You call this a face?
Go out. Come back in again.
Hush. Hush. Listen. Don’t stop.
Jesus Christ this spotlight never stops. And your voice
knocked over a thousand things that ran
lapping down the aisles like dark light.
Mother. Ghost of your child-self –
nave, altar, His arm, His gushing heart.
O holy holy. Under and over.
Piss in the bedpan she won’t have emptied – not
Roaring up the aisles, you a tiger’s wraith, prowling
shroud. You the woman in white. Soon.
Too soon. Not yet. Up. Down.
Voices, rows of handkerchief voices. You jump
when they call you woman. No-sleep
Xanax churchhood, head a prayer-book, how many shoes?
You hated carpet. Had to hear them. Step. Not. Step. Yet.
Zone of fracture. Till the lights go out.
Thanks to Annie Stillar, Thom Caraway, and Laurie Lamon for their help with the contest. And high-fives to Dr. Strauch.
Richard Strauch is professor of music and Director of the Whitworth Wind Symphony. In addition, he teaches music history and applied low brass, and is second trombonist in the Spokane Symphony. His area of research is the impact of religiosity on the aesthetic and reception of late 19th century music. He holds degrees from Wheaton College and Yale University, and is in his 17th year of teaching at Whitworth. He is married to a poet, and has three children who are also poets.