2008-2009 IATE Poetry Contest Winners

Here's a list of recipients of Special Merit awards, their schools, and their nominating teachers. Winning poems can be viewed by clicking the students' names.

  • Megan Creighton“What the Elephant Perhaps Feels ” / Twelth Grade / Teacher, Glen Brown/ Lyons Township High School ( LaGrange, IL)
  • Tommy Hebson“If You Give a Penguin a Popsicle: Numberoff Imitation” / Ninth Grade / Teacher, Amy Birtman/ Lake Forest High School (Lake Forest, IL)
  • Jessica HoffenA World Beyond ” / Eight Grade / Teacher, Heather Corral/ Northbrook Junior High School (Northbrook, IL)
  • Caitlyn Christine Strader“A Night of Fun ” / Eleventh Grade / Teacher, Lee Roll/Oakland High School (Oakland, IL)

Of Poetry, This World, and Those Others

Poetry gives us the world whole. The poem may do so by means of big ideas or by virtue of minute particulars, but the result is the same. Readers see this world’s complexities and beauties and tragedies in full relief, as if the poet carved away its muddled surface and left only the revelation.

This quality Robert Graves referred to as poetry's "stored magic," the poetic act of prestidigitation and the readerly act of participation as both audience and able assistant. Readers accept that the poet is up to something, and they become willing accomplices. They understand the poet will not lift her candle to light upon the particulars of what is but will instead drop a curtain over the familiar to show us what might be. In the imagined realm of what could be poet and readers meet in the shared pleasure of surprise. 

This other-worldly magic often inheres in the very making of the poem. It’s not so much a matter of tricking as of conjuring – a fresh world imagined to show us our tired world anew.

In various and manifest ways that is just what happens in this year’s Poems of Special Merit. Meghan Creighton’s subtle “What the Elephant Perhaps Feels” limns the line between our limited human perceptions and the “hyper realm beyond / our sense of touch.” The poem’s underpinning is the conjectural “if” – and everything we readers know for certain is called into question by what we don’t know. The poem’s roots and tendrils are epistemological, testing the limits of what we humans are capable of knowing and of how we come to know it.

This same conjectural impulse powers Tommy Hebson’s whimsical “If You Give a Penguin a Popsicle: Nermeroff Imitation,” where the poem’s launching point is revealed in its title. A wacky universe spills delightfully from this imagined first cause as if issuing from the mind of a creator who foresees how one act leads ineluctably to another. The satisfying of one “want’ occasions another need that must be answered, no matter how bizarre or problematic. This discomfiting state is all too familiar to any home remodeler who buys a new couch and finds now she must also have new carpet, paint, and lighting – world without end, amen.

In the hands of the painter at work in Jessica’s Hoffman’s “A World Beyond,” the new realm’s initiating first cause is simply the flush of color and the “flick of the paint brush.” Here, through motion and color, the artist creates and thus discovers simultaneously. Variously, a “koi” pond, exotic “dragons,” and mother with child “emerge” through the artist’s interaction with the canvas. As with Tommy Hebson’s poem, this creative whirlwind circles back upon itself in perpetual play, ending as it began and thus beginning again.

Caitlyn Christine Strader’s “A Night of Fun” reminds us that although the imagined world may be enthralling it need not always be benevolent. As if in dream become “horrifying nightmare,” the speaker experiences an ironic “night of fun / at the circus” harassed by a bevy of clowns. These manic Bozos prey upon the teenaged-speaker by employing the typical flower petal squirt gun or oversized floppy red shoes in less than welcoming manner. The result blends humor and terror so characteristic of clownish behavior – whether it occurs in dream or in the schoolyard – and reminds one not to trust appearances in friend or foe.

When the world is too much with us, as the poet suggests, we weary of it and of ourselves. We turn to the other-world and often paradoxically discover there what we labored to escape, now revealed in full measure we once were blind to.

- Kevin Stein, Illinois Poet Laureate