Literary Arts Friends announce winners of 2015 writing contests

The Chautauqua Literary Arts Friends announced the winners of their annual writing contests Sunday on the front porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.

The contests in prose and poetry are open to anyone who has spent at least one day on the grounds of Chautauqua Institution this summer. Though this stipulation meant few were present to accept their awards, the evening was still a celebration of the written word.

In the adult categories, Margot Tomsen received an honorable mention for her poem “The Nightmare That Is Always Poetry.” Wally Rees won second place for his poem “Friday Evening at Tim’s Garage.” Rees, who was present at Sunday’s event, described his poem as being about “rural life in Western Pennsylvania. … There’s an irony to it.”

Martha Snell took the Mary Jean Irion Prize, first place — which included $100 — for her poem “Blue Marble.”

Poetry judge Joan Murray, whose remarks were read at Sunday’s event by Dave Northrup, invoked Emily Dickinson in describing Snell’s work.

“ ‘If I feel, physically, as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that it’s poetry.’ Reading ‘Blue Marble’ was like that for me, giving me chills the first time I read it, and also the next day when I read it again,” Murray said. “Its power comes from the unifying, telescoping image that covers the whole poem — the child’s tiny, beloved marbles, the vast, gorgeous earth, and a daring, intimate gesture at the end. You have a highly accomplished, metaphysical poem.”

In the adult prose category, judged by Jim Daniels  — whose remarks Northrup read aloud at the event — Mark Conaway received an honorable mention for “Magic Kingdom,” a work that “shows us how we can find ‘magic’ in what might seem like the unlikeliest of places if you just look hard enough and pay attention. A very strong sense of place [was] created here, with sharp descriptions throughout,” Daniels said.

Second place in adult prose went to “Trouble at 24° 33’ N (Paradise)” by John Christy.

Christy, Daniels said, “uses great empathy and insight to bring life to a situation in which externally, very little is happening. It shows how much can be wrapped up in a held glance between strangers.”

First place, the Charles McCorkle Hauser Prize, went to Bethany Snyder, of Rochester, for her work “Through the Storm.”

“This piece pulled me right in with rich detail and a distinct voice from the opening sentence,” Daniels said. “I feel as if I’m right there in the scene with the characters.”

Snyder’s sentences, Daniels said, “compressed a lot into just a couple page with lyrical, rhythmic description.”

Snyder, who was present to accept the award, was ecstatic when she learned she had won first place.

“ ‘Through the Storm’ is a sad little story about a girl whose brother dies the night of a bad storm,” she said.

Snyder was inspired to write it after a Week One experience on the grounds.

“I was sitting in the Amphitheater listening to Roger Rosenblatt, and we all sang ‘Imagine,’ and I had my hand on my neck, and I could hear my voice vibrating, and that became the inspiration for the song. I went home and wrote the story, and here I am.”

In the young adult categories (Young Writers, Young Adult Poetry and Young Adult Prose) Jack Reisman received an honorable mention for his “whimsical poem,” “Leprechaun,” in the Young Writers category, for children 12 and younger. In Young Adult Poetry, Elizabeth Kastelein received an honorable mention for her poem “Woven Stars” (she also received an honorable mention in the Young Adult Prose category for her work “After the Bell Rings”).

Second place went to Tucker Briglin for his poem “Decrescendo.” First place went to Zoe Magley for “52 and Leaving With a Whisper.”

In the Young Adult Prose category, Natasha Kisak took second place for “Icarus,” and Emma Ritz won first place for “The Throwaway,” a story about trying to fit in at school.

Tucker, who was present to receive his award, once wrote a poem a day to send to his teacher in Thetford Center, Vermont, who would critique them. He wrote about 200, he said, and when he learned about the contests, he submitted “Decrescendo.”

“The poem looks long, on the paper, but it’s a quite short poem about falling asleep,” Tucker said. “Each line gets shorter and shorter as the poem progresses. I was so excited to have won.”

All young adult winners, the Friends President Fred Zirm said, will receive notebooks from the Chautauqua Bookstore.