By Stephen Wilson

Poetry, in some regards, seems to be the work of seeing the future by mining the past in order to better understand the present.

Guest poet and judge at the 2021 Jean E. Corrie Poetry Prize, Edgar Kunz, introducing one of his poems, “After the Hurricane,” explained it as this: Preparing himself for things he would soon go through, mainly his father’s death, unaware that he was doing such work.

That poem closely observes his father as he makes a van his home following a hurricane and dreams of repairing a broken relationship.

Featured reader and judge Edgar KunzKunz read from his prize-winning book Tap Out and also a few new pieces that ranged from his work as a food taster at McCormick Spices to his observations of ugly heron.

He also served as judge, selecting a winner and runner-up from over 50 submissions of first-, second-, and third-year student poets.

Shirley Liu ’23 took the top prize for their poem entitled 黄, the Chinese character pronounced huang, which translates to yellow in English. The poem explores the complex relationship between cultures, skin colors, and self-acceptance.

I’ve never really written poetry before this piece, so hearing that people like my poetry and that a place for my voice exists has been hugely encouraging in my decision to continue pursuing writing,” says Liu.

Screenshot of Shirley Liu ’23 who won Jean Corrie PrizeFatimata Cham ’23 also was recognized for her poem “Mr. President.” Unlike Liu, Cham has not only written poetry but also read it in notable places, like the United Nations.

“I love writing poetry to express my feelings, comprehend the world around me, and also spread awareness about the issues I see happening around the world,” says Cham. “This poem in particular addresses the importance of community work regardless of who’s in office. The importance of uplifting those around me and my experience being a Black child in America.”

Liu adds, “I’m really honored not only to be recognized but to be recognized alongside Fatimata, who I already respect so much as a poet.”

 

Here are the poems:

Shirley Liu ’23

 

My local hardware store offers 112 swatches in

white, chantilly and ivory and eggshell.

I choose panna cotta because I have a sweet tooth

and because it is two shades lighter than my palms.

 

I don’t remember when the sun became

something to avoid, just that I would scrub

the dirt in my complexion with steel

wool until my skin turned raw and

bloody. There are 293 swatches in

red, heirloom tomato and cayenne and ruby port.

 

I am seven when I tell my mom to stop

speaking Chinese to me. I was in love with a boy and his

eggshell skin. There are 267 swatches in

yellow, straw hat and cornmeal and hollandaise.

I keep scrubbing.

 

I am sixteen when I start learning Chinese

again. The syllables set my tongue on fire.

What color does that look like? Yellow in

Mandarin is pronounced huang. I scour the

store for a swatch with the same name.

A salesperson suggests eggshell.

 

Mr. President

Fatimata Cham ’23

 

Hi Mr.President, 

I am very pleased to 

My father always taught me to 

Speak truth even when 

Your life’s on the line  

So today I took pen to paper 

And wrote my truth 

My name is 

Fellow organizer, middle class, 9-5, student loan debt, learner, child of immigrants, south Bronx, 

I know all too well 

The smell of air pollution and 

Old textbooks 

Crammed classrooms 

And the harrowing noises of

Gunshots 

Know all too well 

The difference a dollar makes 

Know all too well 

The phrases go back to your country 

And take that hideous scarf off of your head 

Know all too well 

How happiness is a distant memory 

My happiness has never stemmed from this democracy 

Because only right here 

Can I die while sleeping, jogging, playing in a park, in my car, in a classroom, at a protest, in my home 

We have broken the glass ceiling 

But how far will that take me 

I’m standing seeing my reflection 

In the feeling 

Congratulations Mr.President 

We have gotten you to office 

We 

The Black women in Georgia 

We the youth 

We Black women across the nation 

We 

Congratulations Mr.President 

Although this country 

Seems polarized too many 

I a young Black child 

Know all too well 

That this has always been America 

America for me

Has never been split into two 

Like the Dead Sea 

But rather a harrowing image of reality 

We learned this past summer 17 more ways 

You can die while being black in America 

Hands up don’t shoot 

We learned how complacency, and lack of accountability can heighten this harrowing image 

Congratulations Mr.President 

Will you plague us with your empty promises too 

Will you fill your cabinet with diversity 

To portray this image of change 

Or will their be action 

Because Flint still doesn’t have water 

And indigenous women keep going missing 

The Middle East is still being disrupted 

The Congo is still being exploited 

People are still in detention centers 

Black women are still dying 

Dear Mr.President 

Is the Black agenda at the top of your list

Are we dead dead last again  

We speak of light and truth 

But 

My light was stolen long ago 

As I child I found myself placing 

My hand across my chest 

Singing in anthem 

Singing to a flag

Covered in blood 

Not fully knowing 

What it all meant 

Dear Mr.President 

It is not amiss to me 

That the lawn you walk on 

The halls you walk through 

We’re crafted by the hands 

Of slaves 

I don’t need your words to reassure me 

Because it’s the community I wear on my heart 

That has always gotten my back 

My liberation will not come your presidency 

Or the past 45

Congratulations Mr.President 

I am rendered speechless 

Because although it’s not another 4 years 

Of Mr.Ex President 

I don’t have much faith 

The only faith and courage I rely on 

Is community 

So I will end by saying 

Congratulations Mr.President 

As we part ways 

I hope you find a cure to 

The malignant tumor that is growing 

In America 

And know that it lies not in the policies or politics 

You have worked on before 

It lies in the hearts of communities 

Like mine.

 

Categorized in: Creative Writing, English, Featured News, Lectures, News and Features, Students, The Arts
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