Poet’s Seat Poetry Contest
Cathy Gouch of Greenfield won first prize with her poem, "Contemplating Field Driving through Gilbert, Arizona." Recorder/Trish Crapo
Cathy Gouch loves long poems — a fact that might not be readily apparent to those reading “Contemplating Field, Driving through Gilbert Arizona,” the eight-line poem that made the Greenfield poet this year’s adult winner of the Friends of the Greenfield Public Library’s 22nd Poet’s Seat Poetry Contest.
In contrast to this brief poem with its short, succinct lines, “A lot of my poems are really long,” Gouch said. She has written many that are two or three pages.
“Up against that, these eight little lines seemed so small,” Gouch said. She expressed surprise and delight that, “This little poem that I really had faith in did what it did.”
And though “Contemplating Field” may be short, the poem’s few lines manage to convey a large landscape inhabited not only by the poem’s speaker as she drives past forests and fields, but by crop dusters flying in planes overhead. It’s a landscape that expands in all directions, beyond the horizons of Gilbert, Ariz., into the world of imagination as the crop dusters, bored by the repetition of their job, envision among the rows of cotton below, “naked backs rising/Skyward.”
Gouch, who works as a substitute teacher in the Greenfield and Bernardston schools, said that usually a thought or an image — like that field in Arizona — will inspire her and will, “trigger some words.”
The initial thought or image usually becomes the title of her poem, she said. “The imagery spins off from that.”
She’ll sit down and jot down notes and phrases, “and then try to weave the story.”
Gouch has long been interested in story and for that reason, loves prose poems.
“Since I was a little girl, I’ve always been attracted to poetry and short stories,” she said. “As an adolescent, I would write little adolescent poems. Nothing to the sophistication of the young poets I heard (Tuesday night)! I was so impressed by the sophistication of their writing. I was very, very moved by that.”
In addition to having her name engraved on a plaque on the back of a handmade Mission-style chair, a very literal “Poet’s Seat” that she gets to keep in her home until next year’s contest winner is named, Gouch received a gift certificate from World Eye Bookshop, a night at Poetry Ridge Bed and Breakfast in Greenfield and a redware platter, inscribed “Poet’s Seat 2013” and made by local potter Stephen Earp.
On Tuesday, after the winners were announced following readings, Gouch held the platter aloft, expressing her thanks to organizers as well as to Hawley poet Jody Cothey, who publishes under the name Pamela Stewart. Cothey was one of Gouch’s writing professors at Arizona State University in the late 1970s and, after the two reconnected serendipitously in Hawley in 2004, continues to be a “mentor and muse.”
“I enjoyed very much how the whole contest was handled,” Gouch said. “It felt really good and very comfortable. The people that I met were just magnificent. It was just a wonderful, wonderful moment in my life that I won’t forget.”
Lynnette Baker Varnon of Greenfield won second place with her poem, “I Rub Her Back in Circles Until She Falls Asleep,” and Christine Grecsek of Sunderland won third place for “Mycology.”
The 12-to-14-year-old category was won by Aniella Day of Deerfield and Robin Williams of South Deerfield. Jiyoung Jeong of Deerfield and Melissa Leary of Northfield won in the 15-to-18-year-old category.
Entering the Poet’s Seat Poetry Contest is easy. Cindy Snow, one of the organizers, said that the deadline is always in March. Notice goes out to The Recorder and other newspapers, listserves, local schools and other outlets and instructions for entering are posted on the Greenfield Public Library’s website, usually by early February.
Entrants may submit up to three poems. All judging is blind, Snow said, meaning that names are removed from the poems before being given to panels of three local poets, one panel for each category. Judges are often — but not always — previous Poet’s Seat Poetry Contest winners. First-place adult winners or youths who place in the top two of their category are not eligible to enter again, though other finalists may. A young poet who has placed in the 12- to 14-year-old category may enter again when he or she is old enough to compete in the 15-to-18-year-old category.
There are usually around 100 adult entries and 80 youth entries, Snow said. “So, it’s an accessible contest compared to some.”
“There are usually a number of poems that contend for that top-10 slot,” Snow added, referring to the last cut of poems. “Most of the time, there’s a real lively debate about who’s going to win and who’s going to come in second or third. That’s why we have three judges!”
Trish Crapo is a writer and photographer who lives in Leyden. One of the founders of Slate Roof, a member-run press publishing western Massachusetts poets, her chapbook “Walk through Paradise Backwards” was published by the press in 2004. Her poems have appeared in anthologies, journals and Ted Kooser’s national column, “An American Life in Poetry.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Crapo is seeking published poets for her column. She’s interested in books written by a Franklin County poet and/or published by a Franklin County press. To submit a book, mail it to Franklin County Poets, The Recorder, P.O. Box 1367, Greenfield, MA 01302, attention, Adam Orth. Or, drop it off at our office, 14 Hope St., Greenfield.