Pioneer Valley Poets: Poetry contest winner draws from real-life inspiration

  • 2017 Poet’s Seat Winner, Cynthia Snow of Shelburne Falls, will be one of 11 readers celebrating the 25th Silver Anniversary of the contest at the Arms Library on Sunday at 3 p.m. For The Recorder/Trish Crapo

  • Crapo

For The Recorder
Published: 11/1/2017 11:55:31 AM

The Poet’s Seat Poetry Contest, founded in 1991 and sponsored by the Friends of the Greenfield Public Library, usually makes its big splash in the spring, when a celebratory reading announces winners in one adult and two youth categories. The contest is named for the Poet’s Seat Tower that stands above Beacon Field, erected to honor poet Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, who lived in Greenfield in the mid 1800’s.

This weekend the contest will be in the spotlight when winners in the adult category, including 2017’s current winner Cynthia Snow, read at The Arms Library at Bridge and Main Streets in Shelburne Falls on Sunday, November 5, 3 p.m.

The reading celebrates the contest’s Silver Anniversary and the publication of an anthology of poems by all 25 previous winners. The anthology, published this spring, was the brainchild of 2016 winner, Colrain poet Dennis Piana, who spearheaded the project through many hurdles and deadlines to produce a beautiful and compelling book. The cover features a reproduction of 1997 winner Nina Rossi’s assemblage depicting the Mission style chair — a literal “Poet’s Seat” built by Greenfield resident John Carpenter — that each adult winner is given stewardship of for a year. The book includes some history of the contest, brief memoirs from winners about living with the chair, photos of all winners, as well as portraits that, I admit, I took of the chair.

At press time, eleven winners had committed to the reading (see sidebar). In addition, 2015 winner Daniel Hales will play original music. The event is free, refreshments will be served and the library is handicapped accessible.

2017 Winner, Cynthia Snow

Snow, of Shelburne Falls, won the 2017 contest with her poem “Leonard,” a joyful narrative piece based partly on a real-life experience.

“About a year ago, I joined a senior dance company,” Snow said. “It was something I’ve wanted to do most of my adult life.”

As she practiced with the group, wearing sneakers, Snow kept twisting her ankle, she says. “And I noticed other members of the group had these nice shoes.”

Snow grins as she says, “So I ordered some.”

Snow says that when the shoes arrived and she opened the box, “I just got this adrenaline rush. I thought, ‘I’m committed!’”

“I’m a dancer!” I say, playing Snow’s part for a second.

We laugh.

Then Snow adds, “Of course I didn’t really waltz around the chairs.”

I am dashed but I forgive her.

“I love the emotional truth of it,” I say, “given all these other responsibilities that I’m sensing. And I love that it’s the light that wraps its warm fingers around your waist and takes your hand, not another person. I find that really great.”

Snow says that the poem was one example of just following the language wherever it might take her. That usually produces a better poem than having everything planned out before you begin, she says.

Canadian folk singer Leonard Cohen’s song, “Hallelujah,” had been in her head because her troupe had been practicing for a performance with GCC dance students that included it, Snow explains. Cohen’s death, in November of 2016, coincided closely with the timing of the performance, making the song even more moving that it might have been.

“Were you surprised to win?” I ask Snow. “After so many years — how many? — that you were involved in the contest?”

Snow chuckles as she recounts running into early contest coordinator, Greenfield architect and poet Art Stein, at a library book sale shortly after she had moved to the area. The two, meeting for the first time, started chatting about their mutual love for poetry and next thing Snow knew, Stein had turned over his role in running the contest to her. Snow coordinated the contest for ten years, from 2004 until 2014. She then took what she considered a “polite interval” of two years off before entering.

“So, yeah, I was surprised,” Snow says. She recounts the excitement of sitting in the audience, knowing she was a finalist and having the third and second place winners announced in the countdown to the first place winner.

I laugh, having sat there myself in 1999.

“And then you’re like, ‘Holy shit, it’s me!’” I say.

Snow and I agree that the Poet’s Seat Poetry Contest is particularly great because of its positive community vibe and its inclusion of youth winners in the same ceremony. The enthusiasm of local English teachers in encouraging students to enter has brought a diversity of young voices to the podium over the years.

Snow emphasizes, as well, the generosity of community members who have volunteered their time to judge or coordinate, or who have donated products to be given as prizes. Check out the anthology, available at the reading, or through the Greenfield Public Library, for the names of these individuals and businesses.

And watch for the next contest deadline in early spring of 2018. You can find a link to the Friends of The Greenfield Public Library on the library’s website:

[sidebar — what to title it??]

Poet’s Seat Contest Winners Reading at The Arms Library, November 5, 3:00 p.m.

Candace Curran — 1992; 1996

Nina Rossi — 1997

Trish Crapo — 1999

Susie Patlove — 2000

Christopher Willingham — 2002

Susan Gleason — 2003

Andrew Varnon — 2009

James Heflin — 2014

Daniel Hales — 2015

Dennis Piana — 2016

Cindy Snow — 2017

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