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Poetry Tips from Our May Competition Winners

Poetry helps us make sense of our homes, our histories, our experiences, and the world around us, weaving narratives together with poignant language and imagery. "In my poem, I [...] bridge the gap between my own experiences and the stories passed down from generations before me," says Khôi, winner of Best Written Poem in our 2024 Poetry & Spoken Word Competition. "I wanted to replicate the ebb and flow of emotions in conjunction with the push and pull of memory rushing into the poem."

Meet the competition winners below, as they discuss the writing/editing process, upcoming projects, and the poets who have inspired their work.

Khôi, Best Written Poem

Best Written Poem - Khôi

Guest Judge Malika Booker praised the "vivid emotional and physical landscape being painted" in your winning poem. How did you use language and imagery to create this emotional/physical realness?

In my poem, I used language and imagery abundantly in order to paint the landscape of Vietnam and the emotional state of a Vietnamese child witnessing firsthand the impact of war,  trying to bridge the gap between my own experiences and the stories passed down from generations before me. Wanting to replicate the ebb and flow of emotions in conjunction with the push and pull of memory rushing into the poem instantaneously, I employed line breaks in certain areas such as “satin hush" to “pouring love", and “bearing bitter" to “persimmons in the orchard", which creates a transitional and liminal state to my poem—a flowing and halting motion as if there is an obstacle stopping the reader from finishing.

The image of persimmons all plopping is representative of the harsh and bitter reality of war and the multigenerational impact it has left on my family. Normally, a ripened persimmon would be sweet, not bitter. However, even though they are still unripened and “growing," they are burdened and forced to fall—an unnatural circumstance—as if they were suddenly coerced into conflict. The scene of persimmons “plopping” and “losing momentum" is a metaphor for the sacrifice and burden carried by my ancestors to my grandfather, my mother and subsequently branching down into the younger generations like myself.

When I was writing this poem, my inspirations came from my mother and grandfather. The stripped-of-pretence love my mom has given me starkly contrasts with her sacrifices in the family. The image of her "bony hands" reinforces this—hands that have tirelessly toiled to hold the family together, yet are being neglected due to the passage of time. All of her affection going through the motions of being poured out from a chipped cup is symbolic of her efforts trying to take care of the family, yet facing injustices on a daily basis contributes to a constant undercurrent of unspoken pain. I wrote "seeping in the color of your country / red with ianthine bruises” to further emphasise this: “red” being bloodshed while ianthine is a deep blue-violet, the only colour in the poem that deviated from a supposedly red summer. It is used to point out the emotional and physical scars that cannot be healed.

The same ache parallels my grandfather's when I hear stories of him in the war and losing his loved ones. It's a different trauma and turmoil, but has the same poignant and intergenerational effect on my own family. Though time passed and revolutions went by, my grandfather and the people that went before me stare at me with conviction and friction as if having hope in me to not only continue their legacy but also change the trajectory of our lives. That is also why, at the end of the poem, I vowed to carry this memory with me. The memory that is an aftertaste of war, and kinship/familial burdens, which will continue to last even as the generation that lived through it recedes into history.

What other writing projects are you currently working on?

Some other writing projects I am currently working on include a fantastical novella I am writing with my friend, a scientific journal, and also a poetry collection. I have been writing the novella with my friend for two years, and we aim to finish it this year to have it published. Other than that, I am also writing a scientific journal because I am also passionate about the sciences, and I am starting work on my first-ever poetry collection. In the future, I am also hosting a book club with my friend named the “dimly-writ literature society" - a play on the oxymoron and also on writing (it's supposed to be self-deprecating). Hopefully, we will also be able to create a website and publish our writings on there.

Kaitlyn, Best Spoken Word Performance

Best Spoken Word Performance - Kaitlyn


Did you write your poem ‘Rush’ with the performance in mind? How did this impact your writing process?

I began writing the poem with the prompt in mind, focusing on what message I wanted to get across. The answer, of course, being society’s constant tendency to rush through life while missing the truly important things. However, as I began writing it, I could hear it being spoken, the words being rushed, the crescendo, the sudden slowing at the end to emphasize the message. With that in mind, the words came more easily to fit the performance qualities I was hoping for. When I write poetry, I always say it out loud as I write it, stopping after almost every stanza to read it out loud again. I believe a lot of the power of poetry really does lie in the way that it is read. Which is why I love spoken word!

Are there any spoken word (or written) poets who have inspired your work?

Just a year ago, I discovered a few spoken word poets on Instagram, which actually inspired me to begin my own poetry account. Hearing the impact of poets reading their own work, exactly the way they intended it to sound, gave me a new love for spoken word. Some of the poets that inspired me were:

. Celia Martinez (@diaryofaromantica)

. Whitney Hanson (@whitneyhansonpoetry)

. Andrew Noelker (@andrewnoelker)

. Raegan Fordemwalt (@raeganspoetry)

Writing is a gift! And I’m so thankful God entrusted this gift to me, to glorify Him, help other people, and express myself.

Cameron, Best Peer Review

Best Peer Review - Cameron

Your winning peer review featured lots of praise and suggestions for developing the piece. How do you balance positive comments with constructive criticism when giving feedback?

I find that mixing subjective and objective feedback creates the perfect mix of kind and constructive comments. Subjective focuses on how the piece made me feel, while objective focuses more on the use of literary devices and other techniques. It reminds the writer that some changes may be generally helpful, but their style can still resonate with a different audience.

What is your favorite genre to write and/or review?

My favorite genre to write in is fiction, but I prefer to review personal nonfiction pieces. Since I don’t know the writers personally, I can more effectively describe what does and doesn’t need to work to help the reader understand the writer and their story.

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