Montgomery County Poets Laureate
The Annual Montgomery Poet Laureate Competition is the foundation upon which the MCPL Program was built. The competition is the ultimate expression of the program’s mission; creating an
ever expanding community of poets, supporting their work and providing opportunities for poets to elevate their visibility while also benefiting the community with their service project, many of which continue long beyond their tenure.
How does the competition work?
Each year MCPL recruits a celebrity poet with a national reputation, who along with two additional local Delaware Valley poets, adjudicate the submitted manuscripts.
The newly selected Montgomery County Poet Laureate is honored with an award in the amount of $500 along with a personalized statement about their work, which is shared through MCPL and other local organizations.
The Award is presented during the LitLife event at Rosemont College in Bryn Mawr. The winner will be given an opportunity to read their work and speak to the audience composed of attendees of the day’s event which also features workshops and poetry readings including a Poetry Workshop conducted by the Celebrity Judge of the competition.
Who can compete?
Poets of all ages and backgrounds are encouraged to submit their poetry for review and adjudication in the annual competition. Poets must also be residents of Montgomery County. The window for submissions generally opens in early December and closes mid-February with the winner to be announced at the end of March.
The role of the Poet Laureate
The Poet Laureate functions as an ambassador for poetry in Montgomery County from April 1 of the year of his/her naming to March 31st of the following year. This role includes working with MCPL’s Executive Director, Joanne Leva, to develop a schedule of readings, workshops
Appearances may include the Forgotten Voices Poetry Group, Farley’s Bookshop First Thursday Poetry Reading Series, the Philadelphia Poetry Festival and the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. The Poet Laureate is asked to attend LitLife (both the year they are named, as well as the following year to discuss the experience). They may also hold the office of “
Poet Laureate 2019
Cathleen Cohen founded ArtWell’s We the Poets program in Philadelphia (www.theartwell.org). Her poems have appeared in Apiary, Baltimore Review, Cagibi, Chrysalis Journal, East Coast Ink, Philadelphia Stories and other journals. In 2017 her chapbook “Camera Obscura” was published by Moonstone Arts Press. Cathleen is also a painter and currently exhibits at Cerulean Arts Gallery in Philadelphia. She received the Interfaith Relations Award from the Montgomery County PA Human Rights Commission and the Public Service Award from National Association of Poetry Therapy.
In this winning manuscript, the act of painting becomes an extended metaphor that conveys the promise and potential of the blank page; the longing to see and be seen, flaws and all; and a subtle questioning of decision-making and risk in both art and life. What the poet conveys most urgently, however, is a desire to memorialize deeply cherished aspects of lived experience amid the persistent shadows of loss and mortality. Here, the speaker’s willingness to risk vulnerability is layered, conveyed through shaking hands that produce watercolor paintings of “jagged petals/more thorn than rose,” and by moments of recognition that reveal a deep self-knowing, as in the lines “…I love most/what I can’t control.”
Employing vivid sensory details that ground us in the real world along with swerves into the dark landscape of the human interior, the poems come to embody what Eavan Boland & Mark Strand call in their book, THE MAKING OF A POEM, an interplay of “sweet dream” and “rude awakening.” In poems that gesture toward the pastoral poetry tradition, we encounter the pleasures of sensory experience: red silk, an amber glaze of light, dogs baying, crunching leaves. The tenderness of such scenes is magnified by the acknowledgment of ever-present shadows. In “Bluer than Sky,” for example, the speaker stands in “spilled light among fragile blooms/ no paint could replicate.” In a poem titled “Teaching,” an art teacher persists with his lessons even as his voice becomes “cloth” and he grows “gaunt as charcoal,” despite eyes “burning / blue as kiln fire.”
In a poem called, “Sharp, Luminous,” the speaker plays with a grandchild who stacks and demolishes block towers, acknowledging, “the point is to be a tower falling, rising / while your bright bits fly out.” In this poem, the poet conveys the surprise and wonder of the grandparent-grandchild relationship and considers where it falls in the broader backdrop of her life, a life in which the speaker is a “…canvas, / stretched to my contours, questioning / some of what I’ve been: / careful sketches, brushstrokes.” We hear an echo of Rilke’s injunction to change one’s life, a mixture of regret and renewed intensity about how we conduct ourselves that can result from beholding greatness or beauty. The speaker in “Sharp, Luminous” seems startled awake by the intensity of the connection with her grandchild, a child whose love and life force comprise a challenge to “rise” even as we yield to the movement toward death.Dilruba Ahmed