Poetry in the Making

Poetry award winners

James George '15 and John Kneisley '16 had their poems recognized in the Academy of American Poets University & College Poetry Prize program. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Whether you’re an actor honing skills on stage, an artist attempting a new medium or a musician committing to a complex piece, all forms of creative expression take perseverance, passion and practice. Dickinson poets James George ’15 and John Kneisley ’16 had their efforts recognized in the Academy of American Poets (AAP) University & College Poetry Prize program, which sponsors more than 200 annual poetry prizes at U.S. institutions. George was the Dickinson winner for his piece “I’m From,” which was lauded for its “fresh, sharp-edged unpredictability.” Kneisley’s “Somewhere in the Outskirts” earned an honorable mention for being “rich in charming details.”

“James and John treat writing like the job it is,” says Adrienne Su, associate professor of English, poet-in-residence and coordinator of Dickinson’s AAP contest submissions this year. “Like all of our best creative-writing students, they work hard on revising drafts, take constructive criticism seriously, look to learn as much as possible from their teachers and peers, read widely and deeply and constantly try the unfamiliar.”

I’m From
by James George

I’m from the boggy backyard before the creek.
We walked barefoot over slimy rocks to pirate island, crayfish cove.

I’m from sweet wild strawberries in porcelain bowls
fire pit pumpkins like ashy orange suns.

I’m from dusty treasures discovered: the scratched Bee Gees’ record,
the tobacco-stained skull pipe, the box of rusty keys without locks.

I’m from family gatherings complete with
candied sweet potatoes, bitter apple butter, pudding made with rice.

I’m from get up and go,
narrow bike rides along the canal, kayaks gliding through whitewater like constant spears.

I’m from pop pop’s grave beside the arborvitae trees
their branches separating graves from houses, providing visitors with shade.

I’m from love is kind, patient, caring, comforting
on a frame in the hallway that smells of sun tea and pine.

Somewhere in the Outskirts
New York, NY
by John Kneisley

While walking on rusted train tracks
covered with weeds and cricket songs,
I saw burning coals beside a collapsed boxcar,
a campfire of hobos clinking spoons and mugs
together as they scraped coffee from silver tins,
pulling all-nighters for the sake of conversation.

I heard poetry that night.
Not the kind in some Brooklyn café with
beats and tones on stage before a microphone,
their owners hungry for the sighs and snaps
of an enchanted audience.

Instead I stared into the fire’s coals
and listened to stories of steaming apple pie
saving the stomachs of soldiers come home,
cleaning a middle school every day
to have enough money for cigarettes,
the feeling of park-bench-sleeping on a summer evening

and waking up the next afternoon.
Washing clothes in the Hudson
only to pull them out clogged with city grime.
Glaring back at the policeman after being told
to stop loitering by the church.  
Dumpster-diving for a lighter.

My head swam as the coals grew dim
and blackish-red, exhaling their final, heated breaths.
My eyes fell shut to a father picking apples
with his five-year-old daughter,
and to a fisherman reeling in a bottle of ancient wine.

I finally fell away from consciousness
and let the hobos’ stories
blend with the voices of crickets  
wailing to the stars.

Learn more

Department of English

Read more from the summer 2014 issue of Dickinson Magazine.

Published July 22, 2014