2010 Poetry Contest: The Winner
For the 2010 James River Writers/Richmond magazine Best Poetry Contest, the head judge was Joshua Poteat, a Richmonder who has published two books of verse. Having examined all 303 submitted poems, Poteat and his fellow readers, A.M. Marshall and Allison Titus, chose the single strongest entry — Laura Davenport's "Sermon: New Orleans, 2003," plus two runners-up, by Henry Hart and Heidi Johannesen Poon, along with four honorable mentions. The following are Poteat's comments on the judging process and the winning poem.
"The two-part process implemented to choose the winning poems was highly unscientific: 1. Find the good ones. 2. Be generous and open when doing so. This seemed like the best way to proceed through more than 300 poems. Luckily, the contest readers know good writing when we see it. We've read widely, across many sub-genres, from experimental/avant garde to straight ol' narrative, from neo-formalist works to prose poems. Our choices for first place and the finalists reflect this range. Consider "Sermon" and "The Problem of the Forest" — both are dissimilar in many obvious ways yet remain tethered to each other by beautiful and brilliant language.
"I don't want to speak for the other readers, but the title of the winning poem, "Sermon: New Orleans, 2003," bothered me — for a second or two. I expected a five-page Old Testament-based rant on the coming apocalypse. What I got instead was a balance of lyric and narrative intensity, ambitious in length as well as thought. To sustain a poem over several pages is a juggling act to say the least. When done well, however, the results can be extraordinary. In "Sermon," the discursive, weaving voice, casual yet insistent, leads the reader through the recent past, through a vivid and crumbling city, a mysterious life, an abandoned church, and finally, a funeral. It's a dark path, but the holding back of entropy is dark. And it does what all good poems do, whether you want them to or not. They hold back ruin, if only for a moment."
The Head Judge
Joshua Poteat's first book, Ornithologies , won the 2004 Anhinga Poetry Prize, judged by MacArthur Genius Grant winner Campbell McGrath. Joshua was also awarded the Poetry Society of America's 2004 National Chapbook Award for Meditations , judged by Pulitzer Prize winner Mary Oliver. His second book, Illustrating the Machine That Makes the World: From J.G. Heck's 1851 Pictorial Archive of Nature and Science , was published in 2009 with University of Georgia Press/Virginia Quarterly Review.
Recently, "For Gabriel," a light-based installation Joshua created in collaboration with the designer Roberto Ventura, won the 2009 InLight Best in Show award, judged by Adelina Vlas, assistant curator of modern and contemporary art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Originally from Hampstead, N.C., Joshua lives in Richmond, where he works as an editor of assorted texts at The Martin Agency, teaches classes at VCU, makes light boxes and wrestles pugs.
A.M. Marshall is a poet and artist living in Richmond.
Allison Titus is the author of a book of poems, Sum of Every Lost Ship ( Cleveland State University Press, 2009), and a chapbook, Instructions From the Narwhal (Bateau Press, 2007). She lives in Richmond.