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Student winners of Lafayette’s MacKnight Black Poetry Competition will join poet, critic, and competition judge Alicia Ostriker in reading their works at 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, in the auditorium of Kirby Hall of Civil Rights.

Free and open to the public, the event is sponsored by the Department of English and the Women’s Studies program. It is part of Lafayette’s celebration of National Poetry Month.

Open to Lafayette seniors, the competition is named for MacKnight Black, a 1916 graduate of Lafayette, who at the time of his death in 1931 was one of America’s most significant poets.

This year’s co-winners are Caitlin Gray, an English major from Easton, Pa., for “Carter Notch, N.H.” and Andrew Platt, a philosophy major from West Chester, Pa., for “Untitled.”

Receiving honorable mention are Stephen Chiger, an English major from Westfield, N.J., for “The Fat Kid”; Kim Corbett, a mechanical engineering major and theater minor from Clifton, N.J., for “Perceptions”; Phil Wingert of Bethlehem, Pa., who is pursuing degrees in chemical engineering and English, for “The Engineer’s Comeback”; and Acelya Yonac, an International Affairs major from Milan, Italy, for “This is the Story.”

Platt received honorable mention in Lafayette’s annual Jean Corrie Poetry Competition the last two years. Chiger won the Corrie competition as a first-year student and a sophomore. Open to first-year students, sophomores, and juniors, the competition is sponsored by the English department and the Academy of American Poets.

Platt plans to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy. He is a Marquis Scholar, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, a three-year member of the McKelvy House Scholars program, and a Writing Associate in the College Writing Program. A member of the College Choir and the Madrigal Singers, he has performed in several Lafayette College Theater productions, including A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Major Barbara, and Allison’s House.

Platt counts a wide variety of authors and thinkers among his literary influences.

“My better poems seem to come from the complexities of interpersonal experience put in the perspective of philosophical ideas from such writers as Martin Buber, William James, and Soren Kierkegaard about the nature of personhood and the character of moral relations between persons,” Platt says. “They are equally derived, however, from the work of recognized poets, both contemporary and past, in particular the writing of Stevens, Roethke, Tate, and others.”

“Andy Platt brings vital intelligence to his poetry. He tends to give each line of his poems many meanings, and he challenges us to keep up with his swift and often delightful ironies,” says accomplished poet and critic Lee Upton, professor of English and writer-in-residence, the principal organizer of National Poetry Month events at Lafayette.

Platt names Upton as an inspiring influence on campus, fostering poetry and student participation in the craft through coursework, literary competitions, and poetry readings.

“Professor Upton is, simply, the reason I came to pursue poetry in my time here at Lafayette. This fact is clearly evident in the number of her former students who are being recognized in this year’s competition,” he says. While Platt acknowledges writing poetry is rigorous, he is pleased with the atmosphere on campus, which encourages students’ participation.

“Writing a decent poem is hard work. Among other things, it’s not obvious, to me, certainly, ‘how’ to do it, and it’s not even obvious ‘if’ you’ve done it when you have. It requires a commitment of time and energy-it is something that only comes with practice-but also an emotional commitment,” he says. “It requires a commitment to the work of poets who have come before you. Finally, it requires an audience — people to help you judge your work. Here at Lafayette, we are lucky to have such an audience in Professor Upton.”

The poetry competitions also foster a positive atmosphere for students to learn the craft.

“The Jean Corrie and MacKnight Black Competitions allow students to have their work evaluated by people with ‘real-world’ experience with poetry-people like Pulitzer Prize winners and William Carlos Williams Award winners. Lafayette consistently brings distinguish contemporary poets to give readings on campus, allowing students — and fledgling poets — to both hear their poetry and talk about poetry with them,” he says.

Chiger plans to pursue a graduate degree in journalism. He is editor-in-chief of the College’s student newspaper, The Lafayette, and staff editor of The Marquis, Lafayette’s annual magazine of student poetry, prose, photography, and art. A member of Phi Beta Kappa, he is the recipient of Lafayette’s Gilbert Prize for superiority in English as both a junior and senior, and this year’s winner of the English department’s Class of 1883 Prize.

“It’s hard to say what inspires me to write poetry,” Chiger says. “I guess it’s the same things that inspire most people: desire to communicate, need to share ideas, a bit of self-absorption, some loose threads of consciousness, and the occasional unfinished emotional business. At the end of the day I suppose it’s all about being understood by people.”

Upton says, “Steve Chiger is an ambitious poet who has an exuberant sense of the possibilities of language. He has developed a strong array of compelling voices in his work.”

Chiger he hopes to pursue journalism as a career. As editor of The Lafayette, he has gained practical experience in the field.

“I believe in the truth. Journalism is more public service than personal expression, but for me it’s fueled by the same desire to be open with people,” he says. “Working at the school paper has been at its most rewarding when I’ve seen it help people, either in the community or on my staff.”

As his time at Lafayette draws to a close, he is pleased with the education and opportunities he’s experienced.

“Lafayette is a great school, but sometimes all of us have a tendency to be unnecessarily secretive,” he says. “That’s why journalism and the arts are so important here. Journalism keeps honest people informed and informed people honest. The arts create possibilities for communication that otherwise might be left unexplored.

“Overall, I have very positive things to say about my education here,” he adds. “Lafayette is a setting where students really have the opportunity to work closely with professors and each other. I wouldn’t trade my time at Lafayette for anything.”

A major American poet and critic, Ostriker is the author of nine volumes of poetry, including The Imaginary Lover, which won the 1986 William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America, and The Crack in Everything (1996), a National Book Award finalist that garnered both the Paterson Poetry Prize and the San Francisco State Poetry Center Award. Her most recent book of poems, The Little Space: Poems Selected and New, 1968-1998, was a National Book Award finalist and a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Award of the Academy of American Poets.

“Alicia Ostriker is a prolific poet and critic whose work has been widely translated,” says Lee Upton, an accomplished poet and the first faculty member at Lafayette to hold the title writer-in-residence. “A poet of social conscience, she is keenly adept at translating the effects of what might be called ‘bodily experience.’ Her work is passionate, demanding, and bold.”

Ostriker’s poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Antaeus, The Nation, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, The Atlantic, MS, Tikkun, and many other journals, and have been widely anthologized. Her poetry and essays have been translated into French, German, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Hebrew, and Arabic.

Ostriker’s critical works include Writing Like a Woman (1982), Stealing the Language: the Emergence of Women’s Poetry in America (1986) and Feminist Revision and the Bible (1992). The Nakedness of the Fathers: Biblical Visions and Revisions (1994) is a combination of poetry and prose meditations on the Bible from a contemporary Jewish woman’s point of view. Most recently, she has published Dancing at the Devil’s Party: Essays on Poetry, Politics, and the Erotic (2000). Ostriker has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New Jersey Arts Council, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Her work has been in the Pushcart Prize Anthology, the Yearbook of American Poetry, and the Best Poems of 1997 edited by Adrienne Rich. She lives in Princeton, N.J. and teaches English and creative writing at Rutgers University.

“Alicia Ostriker has become one of those brilliantly provocative and imaginatively gifted contemporaries whose iconoclastic expression, whether in prose or poetry, is essential to our understanding of our American selves,” says Joyce Carol Oates. “Now that Ginsberg is gone, Ostriker is contemporary poetry’s most Blakean figure,” notes Women’s Review of Books. Iowa Review considers Ostriker “one of the most intelligent and lyric of American poets,” while the San Francisco Chronicle calls her work “stunning, unforgettable poems.”

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