A couple of months ago, SLO NightWriters gave a poetry presentation during the monthly meeting. Heading the panel was the Poet Laureate of San Luis Obispo County, Bonnie Young, who happens to also be a NW member. She was accompanied by two other NW members, Anne Candelaria, a former Poet Laureate for SLO County, and poet/novelist Evy Cole, leader of one of our poetry critique groups. It was an inspiring evening, centered around the poetry contest that was part of the Arroyo Grande Centennial Celebration. After the poets talked about poetry and read selections of their work, Bonnie showed slides of Arroyo Grande at the turn of the last century (AG was incorporated as a city in 1911), then gave the audience a window of time to craft the beginnings of their own poems.
I started a poem of my own, based on the feelings the slides evoked in me. After the meeting, I finished it, and then decided to submit it to the poetry contest. I’m a novelist. I don’t consider myself a poet. But sometimes good things happen when the mood is right and the muse cooperates. That appeared to happen here. I liked the finished product enough to support Bonnie’s effort to promote poetry for the celebration by submitting it, so I sent it in with that thought in mind. I did it to support a fellow writer and NightWriter member, not to enter and win a contest.
Then I forgot all about it. After all, winning wasn’t on my agenda, so I didn’t expect or anticipate that outcome. Still, a few weeks later I got a call telling me I was one of the top three winners in the adult age group (they had young kids, teens and adult). Off I went this past Sunday (July 10) to the awards ceremony, ready to cheer for the top winner, whose poem would be buried in the time capsule, dug up and read 100 years from now. Immortality, of a sort. An exciting prospect that, again, wasn’t on my radar. I was just happy for the unknown winner.
It was a lovely ceremony, starting with grade school winners. Each grade’s 1st place winner read his or her poem and I was amazed by the wonderful writing, the expressiveness of even 3rd grade writers. The poets had gone into the schools to work with the kids, and truly inspired them. The teen winner blew me away with not only her work but also her stage presence as she read. Then the adult winners were announced.
I expected to take 3rd place. But I didn't.
I won. First place. A beautiful engraved medal, gift certificates to local businesses, and a place in the time capsule. And an audience who listened in rapt silence as I read my 28 lines. Now I carry the medal with me to show everyone. I've used up all my minutes calling everyone I know. I’m still walking on air. I can’t believe it’s real, though that medal hanging on the wall is working hard to convince me.
In 2111 the time capsule will be opened. My poem will be taken out and read. My name will be proclaimed once again as winner of the poetry competition, adult category. That much of me will live on, no matter what else happens to my other writing, the novels I slave over, the song lyrics I pen, the spiritual meditations I create. It’s exciting and humbling all at once. And proves to me once again that you never know where what you do will take you.
In the writing world, as in life, you need to seize opportunities as they arise. You need to step out of your comfort zone, do a favor for a friend, support the people who support you. Amazing things can happen when you stop trying to make them happen and just do what you do best. Just because you can.
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