#CHQStories – Good job. Now, don’t ever do that again!

Leslie Tryon first visited Chautauqua in July 1988 as a participant in the Highlights for Children writers’ workshop. In an article submitted to The Chautauquan Daily, Tryon shares the story of winning the Institution’s annual poetry contest, and the impact “a week of innovation and creative work” had on her career as an author.
If you would like to share your Chautauqua story, please contact Daily editor Matt Ewalt at mewalt@ciweb.org.

Good job. Now, don’t ever do that again!

While waiting in line to check out of the St. Elmo, I noticed a hand-lettered sign on the counter that read– Annual Poetry Contest.  I grabbed one.  As I pushed my suitcase forward with my foot, I quickly scribbled my name and address on the form. I ripped a poem out of my binder, stuffed it along with the form into an envelope and gave it to the person at the desk when I checked out.

by Leslie Tryon

My Nana is very, very old
But that’s the way it should be;
Long after Nana, came my dad,
And after my dad, came me.

Nana is very, very old,
She’s ten times as old as I.
Nana’s as old as grandpa was,
And he was old enough to die.

Nana’s scalp is peeking out
From patches of silvery hair.
Her hands are bent and on her face
Are lines running here and there.

Nana is old and I am not,
We’re different, but also alike.
We both like to fish and row a boat,
And peddle her two-seater bike.

Both of us are really short,
We can’t reach things way up high.
We like to take naps, and when
We think of something sad – we cry.

Nana and I could be a big help,
We’d do dishes, she’d wash and I’d dry.
But they don’t give us a lot to do,
So we sit and we talk – my Nana and I.

Nana tells me her memories;
So I tell her my memories, too.
She tells me about the old things,
And I try to tell her what’s new.

Nana says if she had a choice,
She wouldn’t be young again,
Because she’d rather be here with me,
Then back in that old way back when.

My Nana is very, very old,
But that’s the way it should be.
Long after Nana came my dad,
And after my dad, came me.

That week at Chautauqua was in July 1988.

In September of that same year I was delighted and surprised to receive a note in the mail postmarked, Chautauqua.  I had won first place in the Poetry Contest.  The envelope included a check for $25.  As I said, I was delighted.

And, surprised.

There was a second note along with the congratulatory one. A somewhat scolding note and one I treasure to this day:

Dear Miss Tryon,

Congratulations again on winning the First Prize in the Annual Poetry Contest.  I am writing to you today because I thought you might like to have the comments made on your entry by one of the judges.

Actually I should not have accepted your poem as an entry because the rules specify that only SHORT poems are acceptable.  It was accepted, however, and did win an award.

In other years the judges themselves have refused to consider any poems more than one page long.  Although, rarely, they have considered a two-pager.

At any rate just thought you like to see the comment made by one judge who thought it might be helpful in your future writing . . . which we look forward to your doing.

Again Congratulations!

I had received a partial grant from the Highlights Foundation in 1988 to attend a writing week at Chautauqua.  Among the speakers were what most attendees generically referred to as “The big New York City editors”; there were three of them. The following year, 1989, I would sign a contract for my first book with the man who would become my editor for the next twelve years and seventeen books, Jon Lanman.  Jon was one of the three editors I had heard speak at Chautauqua.  It is not possible to over state the importance of that week of inspiration and creative work.

And, the ounce of caution that was offered along with the best wishes for my “future writing” from the Chautauqua Poetry Contest committee.

There is one comment

  1. Leah Pileggi

    Leslie, what a beautiful poem. Congratulations on your success and its roots at Chautauqua. You might notice that I’m the person who wrote the first #CHQ story about my summer of dance at Chautauqua. Strangely enough, I’m also a children’s writer, and my first novel will be published next year. It seems that children and literature and Chautauqua mixed together is a recipe that works.

Comments are closed.