University of Oregon Libraries and Oregon Poetry Association are extremely pleased to announce the winners of the second Library Undergraduate Poetry Prize: Martha DeCosta and Stephany Fatheree. This biannual award is given to two undergraduate students, in coordination with the OPA conference, for excellent poems in whose composition the library has played a part. The prize consists of a $500 award to each winner and the publication of the winning poems in OPA’s Verseweavers, an annual anthology of prize-winning poems from OPA’s contests.
The poetry prize emerged two years ago from collaborative discussions between the two organizations. The UO Libraries Special Collections is the official archive for the Oregon Poetry Collection, a rich collection of volumes by Oregon poets or about Oregon going back to the 19th-century, which was founded by the OPA and is still growing, mainly through its members’ contributions of their new publications. The director of Special Collections, David de Lorenzo, said “we wanted to continue to add to the book collection by supporting young poets whose work is worthy of recognition.” Jeff Staiger, Humanities Librarian in Knight Library, who led the team of readers, noted that “we received nearly 20 applications for this round, an impressive number for a time when all university activities were suddenly challenged by a global pandemic. The review committee had to go completely virtual to assess so many accomplished poems in such a wide range of styles and approaches.”
We are very grateful to the readers and to the OPA volunteers who have enthusiastically supported the Poetry Prize since its inception. The UO Libraries is honored to have the support of the OPA to continue to make this award a reality.
BIOGRAPHIES AND WINNING POEMS OF PRIZE WINNERS:
Martha DeCosta Personal Statement:
I am a graduating senior at the University of Oregon with a B.A. in English and a minor in Creative Writing (poetry). During my undergraduate years, I participated in the year-long Kidd poetry program through the Creative Writing department and gained valuable experience in the craft through research and peer workshops. I have always been a storyteller. Much of my inspiration and my creativity comes from a unique multicultural upbringing. Although I was born in the U.S., I spent ten years of my childhood living in India with my family and traveling abroad in South Asia. These formative experiences shaped my worldview. After moving to Oregon, I felt drawn to the international community on my university’s campus. International relationships and experiences continue to influence my poetic interests. I explore diverse subjects in my writing, inspired by personal encounters that cause me to wrestle with some aspects of the world but simultaneously marvel at its diversity. As an aspiring poet and creative writer, I want to contribute my multicultural voice to the poetic community. After my upcoming Spring 2020 graduation, I will be actively job searching, but I also hope to share my writing through online publications and expand my platform.
Martha DeCosta Winning Poem:
I Learn to Knit
Auntie doesn’t speak a word of English except
my knuckles quiver
as I fumble with the loops,
mass like tangled hair in my lap.
Auntie’s braid falls over her shoulder
like a silk dupatta hanging
her gentle palms overlap my fingers,
another row ripples across the needles
fluent as the Ganges River,
the needles click-click at me
for a button hole in the tight pattern –
we knit, purl, knit, purl,
my blue yarn and Auntie’s yellow yarn
Hindi leaps back and forth between us
but I can’t follow her closely enough.
she says, and I am mesmerized by every rotation –
the skein in my lap,
the twists of my wrists,
the loops off my fingers,
Auntie nods and tells me her new word:
Stephany Fatheree Personal Statement:
I was raised in Maui, Hawai’i, and moved to Oregon at nineteen with the hopes of eventually attending a university. After careful consideration, and establishing residency in the state, I decided to attend the University of Oregon to pursue a path in music. Writing has always been a very helpful means of expression and introspection to me, so naturally a large part of my creative expression has been through the craft of words. From my love of creative writing stemmed a love of lyricism, which is how I first developed an interest in music. Since then I have taken as many creative writing classes as I could while also creating music. I have loved exploring both songwriting and poetry, learning that they are so similar yet so different and that I can inhabit different mindsets for each. I was lucky enough to have been a part of The Walter and Nancy Kidd Creative Writing Workshops this year, and through them, poetry has allowed me to focus on the balance between profundity, uniqueness, clarity, and craft. I have thought about the reader and my audience in a more intensive way than I ever have before. Receiving feedback in workshops has been so helpful and rewarding, and being surrounded by poets who share my passion, discussing the craft of poetry has strengthened my love for it. My first term of these creative writing workshops took place in the library, and twice a week for months the library gave me this enriching environment. During my time at the University of Oregon, I have spent hours upon hours every term in its libraries reading, writing, analyzing, and printing poems. I have very much missed having this space to work on my poetry, and I look forward to returning to it when it is safe to do so.
Stephany Fatheree Winning Poem:
You take my water
And offer to boil it for me.
You give me rolling stovetop bubbles
So that I may sit with warmed hands
In the midst of Fool’s Spring
In grass that is sunlit but refrigerated
Because winter isn’t done with us yet.
You take my water,
Soak the echinacea leaves,
Expand the chamomile blossoms,
And pour it into my favorite ceramic mug—
The lopsided one that’s so tricky to clean—
So that I may run it through my pharynx,
Shaking loose the Lane County pollen
That makes it hard for me to sing.
You take the panic
That has spread with this pandemic,
The anxiety of this quarantine,
And soothe them with little lavender baths,
So that I may escape my mind for a minute
And pretend I am nothing but tastebuds.
You take my water
And you begin to whisper
Until your whisper becomes a whistle
And starts to sound more like a screech
Amplified by the kitchen.
This chaotic tune is now my favorite song
Because I need something steady,
Something my hands can control
Other than their own hygiene.