There are a great many things that I take for granted. I woke up this morning and expected, with very little effort on my part, to have water for a shower, electricity for my television, and clean clothes to wear to the job I rely on. I do this (and have done this) every day for years and take for granted for that I will continue to do this for many more. On Tuesday, without thought, I drove to my polling place, knowing I’d be able to vote safely for the candidates of my choosing. I take for granted that I will be able to do this for years to come. I take for granted that my vote matters.
The profound idea that the voice of every citizen matters (as is silence, as is struggle, as is what constitutes citizenship) is deeply embedded in American heritage. It is a heritage of contradictions. The elementary-aged students at the school where are teach have been practicing for weeks for a program they are putting on for local Veterans. The production culminates in “God Bless America,” sung at the top of third-grade lungs. It is not lost on me that the song was written at a time in history when these students woudln’t have been allowed to learn together. It is not lost on me that they are singing to a group of folks with mixed feelings about their own service.
The Mary Ruffin Poole American Heritage award seeks to honor where we come from. Send us your poems of any form or style on the theme of American heritage, sibling-hood, or nature to firstname.lastname@example.org. This history can be complicated to grapple with, and we are looking forward to diving into all that complexity. Be sure to check out the adult contest page for a complete list of submission guidelines.
As I searched for poems that spoke to the theme of nature, I was absoultely wrecked by this beauty from the late Sara Teasdale. And that search rabbit-holed me all the way to a reminder from Ailenn Cassinetto that There are no kings in America.
This judge for this year’s Mary Ruffin Poole contest is Shannon C. Ward. Riased in a renovated slaughterhouse on the outskirt of Wilmington, Ohio, she is the author of the poetry collection Blood Creek (Longleaf PRess, 2013). She received her MFA in Creative Writing/Poetry from The North Carolina State University in 2009 and from 2010 – 2021, taught composition, literature, and creative writing at Methodist University. A recipient of the Foley Poetry Award, the White Oak Kitchen Prize in Southern Poetry, and the Nazim Hikmet Poetry Prize, Ward has also been a resident fellow at Yaddow, Willapa Bay Air, Norton Island, Brush Creek Ranch, and the Anderson Center. Her poems have appeared in many journals, including New Ohio Review, Great River Review, Tar River Poetry, and others. In 2020, she became Executive Editor of Longleaf Press.