Academy of American Poets honors budding writers, Wainwright winner also celebrated

On Tuesday afternoon, a poetry and fiction reading in Griffin 3 celebrated the winners of the Academy of American Poets Poetry Contest, Dan Wong ’08 and Mirabel Bradley ’11, and the Wainwright Contest for short fiction, Katherine Lee ’08.

Elizabeth Gleason ’08 and Stephanie Lin ’08 earned honorable mentions in the poetry contest and also read at Tuesday’s event, as well as Wainwright honorable mentions Sara Siegmann ’08 and Courtney Schirr ’08.

To Bradley, poetry is no new endeavor. “I’ve been writing poetry for a long time, but the poem I submitted to the Academy Contest was sort of the first one that I really liked a lot,” Bradley said. “I’ve written things before, but I wasn’t that excited about how my work turned out in the past, but this one I was really pleased with how it turned out and it had a lot of personal importance to me.”

Bradley’s poem, “Barrow,” is an intimate look at a traumatic and evocative past experience with the death of three of her family’s goats which were killed by dogs. “Basically, the poem is about my experience with the death of the goats and burying them, and helping my dad with the process of digging the hole,” Bradley said.

In addition to its literal meaning, the poem also addresses grander themes of God’s existence. “I guess the experience of the death of the goats heightened my sense of uncertainty about the existence of God and raised questions which I try to grapple with in the poem,” Bradley said. “But it’s not like the poem presents any answers, the poem basically just presents more questions.”

Wong’s poem, “Guard Duty,” which shared the prize, also had serious themes. “It’s about someone our age in Iraq – what they were thinking about when they were on guard duty and what people back here are thinking about in relation to them,” Wong said. The free verse poem tells the story of Michael, a soldier in the Iraqi desert, and his homesickness evident in his communication sent home.

Wong has been writing poetry since coming to Williams, but this is his first time winning the contest. To Wong, inspiration for his poetry can literally come from anywhere. “Recently someone told me to carry a notebook – I usually have it; I just sort of write down random stuff and then stuff starts to fit together usually,” Wong said.

Bradley and Wong cite differing influences on their work. Sylvia Plath is one of Bradley’s favorite poets, while Wong named Seamus Heaney, Tony Hoagland and Robert Hass among his inspirations. “A lot of people whose names start with H,” he joked. “I don’t know why. Maybe I just got stuck in that section of the library.”

Both poets plan to write in the future, and this contest has encouraged Bradley in particular to continue working. At Tuesday’s reading, Bradley also read several works in addition to the contest-winning poem. “I only submitted one to the contest, but since then I’ve written some more that have kind of started to work so I’m excited about that,” she said. “Maybe I’m getting better – maybe I’m starting to find my voice as a poet.”

Undoubtedly, the promising voices of all those honored by the contests certainly deserve to be heard.