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Spouting poetry

Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

It’s probably hard for folks who have only known the adult me to believe, but there was a time when I was painfully bashful. The idea of speaking in front of a crowd – even reading from a prepared script – terrified me. Now, of course, you can shove a mic in my hand and I can rattle on and fill time for as long as you need me to. 

I still get a little nervous when I’m performing, such as playing a song or reading an original piece, but the paralyzing stage fright I used to get is a thing of the distant past. The reason I finally got over my fear of public speaking was poetry. Specifically, it was my friend – the writer and poet Jacob Rakovan – who forced me out into the spotlight to read what he insisted were solid spoken word pieces. 

If “spoken word” sounds pretentious to you, I use it because I still don’t thinik of the short pieces I write as poetry. It isn’t that polished, refined, or beautiful. But it’s fun – and Jake was at least partially right about the quality of my work. The piece he cajoled me into reading that first time, a snapshot of youthful poverty that I called Shampoo Sutra, was also one of my first pieces of published work (other than letters in the back pages of Marvel Comics, the place where nerds argued before the internet). 

Poetry and spoken word, though, and the community that surrounds them, have held a special place in my heart ever since. Pre-pandemic I ran a monthly poetry slam competition in Grayson, where we paid our top three scoring poets each month – a gimmick I shamelessly stole from the Austin Poetry Slam community. I’ve recently been thinking of resurrecting the slam with the lifting of COVID restrictions, but will probably hold off until I can find a way to fairly share the responsibility of starting it back up again without negatively impacting the newspaper. It’s not something I had to worry about before the pandemic. But, then again, I wasn’t running an entire newspaper without a corporate support staff before the pandemic. 

In the meantime, though, I’m looking forward to reading and hearing the submissions to the Carter County Poetry Society’s annual poetry contest. The newspaper will be sponsoring the category for short poem (to match my average attention span), one of 18 total categories open to everyone. The other categories include the Grand Prix, any style or subject with a 60 line limit, a category celebrating women doctors, another for nurses, the KY or Appalachian theme category, the cinquain (a five line poem, typically with a nature theme, and a specific syllabic count), a category on the theme of “now retired,” the spiritual or inspirational category, free verse, “Down by the Boat Dock,” personification, categories highlighting themes like determined, poet’s choice, neighbors, cousins, turtles (by adults, for young readers/listeners), on the theme of hiking, and a category celebrating grandparents. In the young writers category, they are asked to write on the theme of “having fun (or not) during the year of COVID-19.” Entry fees for each category are $2, and $6 for the Grand Prix. Submissions must be received by August 31, mailed to Carter County Poetry Society, c/o Janet Maddix, 18166 W US HWY 60, Olive Hill, 41164. They may also be emailed to lzientara@windstream.net. 

More details on each poem category, and submission guidelines – which include instructions for cover pages and formatting – can be obtained by visiting the Carter County Poetry Society on Facebook, or by contacting club President Lorie Zientara via cell phone at (606)316-7465. 

Or email me and ask, and I’ll send you a PDF copy of the brochure. 

Jeremy D. Wells can be reached at editor@cartercountytimes.com

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