Interview conducted by MPC High School Anthology Coordinator, Kirsten Jones Neff
What were your criteria for choosing the winners?
I was primarily looking for two things: 1) poetic language, i.e. evidence of craft; and 2) an emotional connection to the poet’s voice and the characters in the poem. In terms of craft, was there a compression of language rather than a lot of unnecessary “connective tissue” used in prose? Were the nouns and verbs well chosen and strong enough that they didn’t need a lot of adjectives or adverbs? Were there concrete images I could see in my mind? Or just a lot of abstractions? Was there musicality? Did the poem go somewhere? Was there a strong beginning, some development in the middle, and a strong ending?
But it’s not enough to have craft. Was the content significant? Was there something at stake that drew the reader in emotionally? All three winners wrote about issues that matter: acceptance of all people no matter whom they love or where they were born, or what language they speak, and expressing gratitude for them. And all three poets used concrete details that supported these ideas.
What was the best part of the process for you?
The best part of the process was how difficult it was to make a final decision, because there were so many outstanding poems from such young poets.
What advice do you have for aspiring poets?
The best advice I can give is for aspiring poets to read, read, read. Poetry, yes, but also other genres and to participate in the other arts as well. I talk to so many young poets who aren’t reading poetry. Sometimes they think other voices will dilute theirs. Just the opposite is true. You have to know what has been written in order to avoid spinning your wheels for years, and to be able to discover your own voice. Most poets start out writing to “express themselves.” But every great poet I know anything about at some point made a shift where they began writing to create a piece of art for their readers, and in so doing “discovered themselves.” Reading as widely as possible is the best way to do that.