Friday, April 23, 2010

Notes from UT Tyler 2010 Student Poetry Awards

The event took place on Tuesday April 13, 2010. This is our library's major event for National Poetry Month. You can read my brief official account of the event over at my library's blog here. This post is basically for the more extensive notes I made in my journal, which are not included in the official accounts. If you just want to read the brief summary, follow the link.

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After I delivered some brief opening remarks, Anne McCrady, local poet and friend of the library extraordinaire, provided the introduction for Karla Morton. Karla, the 2010 Texas Poet Laureate, was our keynote speaker for the evening. Anne told us how Karla and her became friends over time. Anne learned various lessons from Karla, including some lessons from Karla's battle with cancer. Anne was proud and excited that we were hosting a woman poet. So were we. I was very happy and excited to learn that this year's Texas Poet Laureate was a woman; it gave us an opportunity here on campus to invite a woman for the first time to be our keynote poet. I was thrilled. Having a woman as our keynote poet was something that Joanne Buendtner, our previous outreach coordinator, who is now retired from our campus, wished for when she was working here. I am glad we were able to make it happen. Anne went on to mention that Karla has an upcoming collection of sufi poetry. I will definitely have to look it up.

Karla took the stage next. She began by showing us two rocks she brought from the Big Bend area (that's West Texas, the area where Alpine is). Karla told us that has always written and that she always wanted to be poet laureate. She moved on to talk about her first published collection, her chapbook entitled Becoming Superman (I bought my own personal copy, which is signed, and which I will be reading later). She chose a chapbook format because she wanted to make it affordable for readers. She told us that, like Superman, we all have an "S" on our chests. We can all find our passion.

  • Karla often gets questions about inspiration. She constantly writes, and she keeps notes in a little notebook, which she then pulls out for ideas. She encourages writers to always be aware. It can be easy to hibernate in your cave. Instead, open yourself to the world.
  • Read the poem "Alamo Coastline."
  • Karla has always been in love with Texas, and this shows in her poetry.
  • On the subject of men, she sees men as interesting people and subjects for her poetry. Thus the poem "Texas Longhorns" goes to the men.
  • On rejection: It took her 20 years to be published and successful. Rejection is the nature of the game. Don't give up. The experience of reading is personal given all different reading preferences (she was referring, likely, to reading on stage, but this seems applicable to any form of reading. It also seems consistent with librarian concepts we learn in reader's advisory, in my humble opinion). Karla advises aspiring writers to send their work, one piece at a time (poem, short story, etc.). Karla also spoke a bit on Anne McCrady and Anne's gift of teaching (Anne runs a series of very successful and inspiring workshops. Check out the link to her site above. In addition, Anne is very generous with students and aspiring writers).
  • If you are stuck (in terms of ideas for writing), Karla suggests going to a writers' workshop or conference (if only I had the time). Confidence is part of your business as a writer. Poetry is every man's art.
  • Karla's second book is Redefining Beauty (you can find it on her website, which is linked above. I also got a signed copy of this one to read later). In these poems, she is using poetry as a way to help herself through cancer. We all have our demons, and writing is a good way of getting through our problems or demons. Being bald (which she was getting her cancer treatment), Karla observed that people would not look her in the eyes. But this can lead to alienation, so she appreciates differences better.
  • At times, God answers our prayers before we know what to ask for.
  • She spoke of people who would tell her bad cancer tales when she was bald. This means someone would see Karla, and if they had a bad cancer tale of their own, they felt a need to share it, something Karla wished they would not do. More positive tales would have been better.
  • Rhyme and poetry are fun. Karla often finds adults who at times are afraid of rhyme, a "Shakespeare class mentality" she calls it.
Other miscellaneous notes and thoughts:

We had 21 attendees for the event. The number may seem low, but this has been pretty consistent over time (at least in the short time I have been here). This is my third event of this kind that I have coordinated. Attendance from the campus community always seems to be a challenge; it is something that I am consistently and continually trying to improve, but there are days when I don't feel as encouraged. As Anne points out, the English faculty shines by their absence; we did have one English faculty member. This is the kind of event I think they should embrace. In other campuses I have worked in, that department would have clamored to sponsor an event like this. The student poets are always a great part of the event. I really enjoy listening to their award winning poems to see what themes and images they bring.

We did get coverage this time around in the campus newspaper, the Patriot Talon. However, it seems the story did not make it the webpage (I have only found it in the print version for 4/20). And as I read it, I did notice some errors, which to be honest, do make me wonder since in some cases the details were things I pointed out pretty clearly to the reporter and she still missed them. The corrections then:

  • I did not judge the poetry contest. The panel of judges was composed of two English faculty members, two librarians (other than me), and a local poet. I made that detail clear at least twice, and it was posted in the library's blog on the post announcing the contest and rules, to which I referred her. A little reading and paying attention would have solved that.
  • Karla Morton is not just "a Texas poet laureate." One, Texas Poet Laureate is a formal title, so it should all be capitalized. Two, she is the 2010 Texas Poet Laureate, sharing in a long line of poet laureates for the state. She keeps the title for life, meaning that she, along with the others, can be addressed as Texas Poet Laureate.
  • Contest rule: 60 lines of poetry total, which could be one long poem or shorter poems totaling that amount. I said most students submit two poems, not that the poems were always 30 lines each.
  • I did not see a mention of the UT Tyler Friends of the Arts. This local organization funds a big part of the event, which I also did mention. So now, to be honest, I am a bit worried I may get a call from someone in News and Information or the FOA to ask.
Oh well, at least they did cover the event. We have been trying to get them to cover it for years now. Maybe next year they will get the details in better form.

At any rate, on a final thought, if you are an outreach librarian like me, and you do events like this, keep in mind that a challenge is for you personally to enjoy the event. I am often worried and moving around making sure everyone is ok, things are in order, minding the little details, etc. I even took photos of the event (see the library's Facebook page). That I managed to sit long enough to listen to the poet and take notes was a nice situation.

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