Lizards in the Leaves

Rustlings in the green....imagination, art, whimsy

Apr 3, 2011

Max Ehrmann Poetry Competition

I'm floating right now, my feet dangling farther off the ground than usual!  Because Friday night I had the most wonderful surprise: both of the poems I entered won in the ArtSpaces Max Ehrmann Poetry Competition. If that wasn't enough, one was the Grand Prize winner!!

The awards ceremony was held at the Swope Art Museum and all the winners knew going in that they had won something, but the organizers were able to keep secret just what that something was. I also had no idea that they would allow a poet to win more than one prize.  So, when my poem The Way Your Dog Lies Down received 3rd Place in the Nature category, I assumed that was it.  And was quite happy, thank you!  So it was a huge shock and surprise, when my name was called for the Grand Prize announcement.

Huge. I'm not sure I've ever had such a good shock and surprise. Certainly not in public with a good number of people around.

Whatever the word might be for ears doing a doubletake (a doublehuh?) that's what my ears did. I have a vague memory of my friend and sister winner Ann giving me a poke, walking awkwardly to the podium and reading my poem Initiates with a fuzzy low hum in my head, which was likely the surprise of it all but could also have been from the whopper of a head cold that was manifesting that very evening.

I'm blessed. I'm so grateful.

My thank you list starts with Mary Kramer at ArtSpaces, which created this event that honors poetry and poets in the name of Max Ehrmann, a Terre Haute native who is best known for Desiderata, but whose whole body of work has a great gentle wisdom. Here is my friend Brian's blog post on Max and the lifesize bronze statue which ArtSpaces installed. It's at the intersection of our two main downtown streets, delighting me because I can see it from both RiverWools (my local yarn shop) and from BookNation where I spend a few afternoons selling books.

My thank you list continues with all the businesses and people who sponsored this competition, who contributed money and prizes to make this a very rewarding competition to win. I will specifically mention the sponsors of the prizes I won -- ArtsIlliana for the $100 3rd place and St. Mary-of-the-Woods College for the $500 Grand Prize. Oh, yes, you read that right.

From a January article by Mark Bennett in the Tribune-Star:

 Kramer wanted worthwhile prizes for the competing poets, “because it’s not nothing; it’s a lot of work.”

Poets, she added, “don’t make any money — if so, rarely, so it’s important to make the prizes significant.” Ehrmann didn’t get rich off “Desiderata,” which only became an international favorite in the 1960s, nearly two decades after he died in Terre Haute at age 72.

And finally, I thank the three poets who served as judges:

 The three judges are professional poets with Hoosier ties, including J.L. Kato, a technical editor from Beech Grove whose poetry includes a collection based on his mother’s experiences during the atomic bomb blasts in her native Japan; Arthur Brown, an award-winning poet and English professor at the University of Evansville; and Rachel Contreni Flynn, a National Endowment for the Arts fellow and poetry instructor at Northwestern University. 

  I had the opportunity of hearing Arthur Brown read at BookNation prior to the awards ceremony and I'm looking forward to hearing the other two poets read at events later this month.

And, of course, I must thank Max!

My Winning Poems

(3rd Place in Inspired by Nature)

The Way Your Dog Lies Down

Lie down on the grass with your dog
the way your dog lies down,

stomach and heart pressed flat to the ground.
Move yourself into the soil, grab onto

the dignity of the dirt until you feel brave,
brave Earth.           Listen.

Her grass has a thousand stories
and her roots speak the great tree mind.

You may get up freed.
You may get up defined.

You may get up redeemed, with your talk
and walk and spine all aligned.

So lie down on the grass with your dog
the way your dog lies down,

stomach and heart pressed flat
to the sacred.        To the holy,

holy ground.

(Grand Prize Winner submitted in the category: Inspired by a Work of Art)


Woman’s work is incantation,

ritual to manage the dirt of the world,
ensure steady turning through the wheel of days.

Barefoot on a hot roof, a woman hangs wet laundry.

You may think she’s thinking about cooking supper,
or making a shopping list in her head

but she’s really reading shadows,
consulting the oracle of empty,
billowing shirts before her.

She’s asking a question about love
that will never be answered
by her husband’s clothes

and she knows what’s going on
on all those other rooftops.

Sister calls to sister through the golden simmering air,

a secret circle in plain sight, women holding this city tight
in a spell cast with cloth, water and soap.

Clothespin-wielding adepts,
they’re just working the elements on wash-day,

loving the way windblown skirts kiss
their bare thighs,

as they bend, reach and sway.

Initiates is after John Sloan’s painting Sun and Wind on the Rooftop (1915).


At 4/3/11, 7:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This poem, sensual, sensational and
artfully fitted to the picture of woman on the hot rooftop. The position of her body smoothly moving as she does work-a-day laundry is mystical incantation- invocation to her sisters that
evokes the feeling of exotic experience in everyday domestic
routine. It's a fire poem, hot
off the coals of your warm heart.
No wonder the judges picked your
poem as grand winner. Exciting!ted

and imitate the exotic dancing that is secretly behidomestic
heart of women

At 4/3/11, 9:14 PM, Blogger Reticula said...

Oh, 'Zann. Sigh. I get lost in your poems, amazing sister of mine. Congratulations. Well deserved and not a minute too soon.

At 4/3/11, 9:38 PM, Blogger Joshua Holden said...

Fabulous poems, Zann! No wonder you won!

At 4/5/11, 6:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations!!! That's all sorts of good. I went into reading the second poem imagining a woman on top of a residential home somewhere in Terre Haute and was slightly baffled...until of course I saw the painting and it suddenly made much more sense. Anyway. congratulations.

-Gabe Vallely

p.s. The lie poem got me excited about the prospect of walking around barefoot soon.

At 4/8/11, 4:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, hope you don't mind, I nominated you for an award!


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