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Poetry Center reading features student contest winners

By Graig Uhlin
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
April 4, 2000
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While the UA Poetry Center typically hosts readings by prominent poets, this Wednesday a group of five UA graduate students will have their opportunity to publicly share their own work.

These five are the winners of the student poetry contest administered by the center and the University of Arizona Activities Board - comprised of the Academy of American Poets Award, two Margaret Sterling Memorial awards and two Poetry Center Prizes.

In addition to the opportunity to participate in the reading, the award recipients were also given monetary prizes - $100 for the Academy of American Poets Award and $50 for the others.

The winners of the contest, which was open to both undergraduate and graduate students, was announced last Saturday.

Jamie Sindell was honored with the top prize. Carolyn Hembree and Jesse Seldess were awarded the Margaret Sterling awards. Brent House and Jonathan VanBallenbergh received the Poetry Center prizes.

All the winners are graduate students in the creative writing program.

California poet Joshua Clover, a past recipient of the Academy prize, judged the contest, selecting the winners from a field of 43 entries.

In an e-mail interview, Clover explained his criteria for judging the contest.

"Mostly I wanted to be surprised," he stated. "I'm always looking for poems that remind me of early songs by the Meat Puppets or Liz Phair: poems that don't act like everybody already agreed on what a poem is and does."

Jamie Sindell's winning poem "Martin Notes" is certainly emblematic of this aesthetic with its non-linear presentation on the page and non-sequitur post-it-note-like stanzas. One such stanza - at once funny, concise, and direct - reads "Baby,/ I'm preggers. Folks are/ pissed./ I'll die if you leave me."

"Jamie's poem ... was also the most engaging, for me: it generated a lot of emotional heat without ever telling me, the reader, how to feel," Clover stated. "In general, I'm not drawn to poems that rely on something like a dramatic monologue for their power, but the way Jamie's poem drew me into having a really mixed set of feeling about the note-writing narrator seemed impressive: really funny and morally ambiguous."

Sindell said she has never read her poetry in public but that she was looking forward to it. She added that the award caught her off guard.

"I was really surprised," she said. "I was really, really happy, though."

Both Seldess and Hembree also said they were surprised when notified about the results of the contest.

House agreed, saying, "I was glad that an outside source had validated my work."

For some of the winners, this will mark their first reading of this stature in front of an audience this size - an act which Hembree said can make one nervous.

"I'm not so much nervous about standing up in front of people, but there is something very revealing and nerve-racking about presenting your own work," Hembree said.

The reading will be held in the Modern Languages Auditorium Wednesday night at 8. The event is open and free to the public.

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