The Robert Creeley Foundation chose Claudia Inglessis ’18 from over 100 other Massachusetts high school writers as one of two winners of the 11th annual Helen Creeley Student Poetry Prize.
Established by Robert Creeley in 2007 in honor of his sister Helen—an avid poet who won national acclaim for her work as a high school student in Acton, MA—the Massachusetts award this year recognized seven students as finalists and named two runners-up and two winners. Emma Crockford of Plymouth’s Rising Tide Charter High School won the other first-place prize.
The first round of the competition required a submission of three poems, the semifinal round involved 18 students reading two of these poems, and the final round featured seven students reading those final two poems. Members of the Robert Creeley Foundation judged the first round, and a selection of guest judges joined for the semifinal round.
Claudia first learned about this poetry competition from a notice posted by Athena Chu ’18 in Renaissance Hall, and she submitted her three poems for the first round in mid-January.
Her first poem, “Sophia,” tells the story of a friend who develops an eating disorder. Zoe Leonard’s composition, “I Want a Dyke for President,” inspired Claudia’s second poem, “I Want Myself for President,” a political piece about someone who doesn’t fit one demographic for president. Claudia’s third poem, “Homesick,” is about her dual identity as Venezuelan and American.
In early February, Claudia received an email notifying her that she had advanced to the semi-finals. She read “Sophia” and “I Want Myself for President” in the February 7 competition at Acton-Boxborough Regional High School before presenting them again for the March 6 finals at the Acton Memorial Library.
Claudia said she prefers performing or reading her poems to submitting written versions because it makes them more personal and gives her more freedom of interpretation.
“I was surprised because when I submitted, I thought it was a smaller competition,” Claudia said. “I figured it would be worth a shot, but I had no idea what the scope of the contest was.”
“I was also surprised to win because of how talented the other people were,” she added.
Along with a $100 Amazon gift card and “short, yet very helpful” poetry reading coaching from Bestyann Duval, a professional speaker and artist who works at the School of the MFA, the four winners and runners-up earned the opportunity to read two of their poems for the winner of the 2017 Robert Creeley poetry prize—world-renowned poet Marie Howe—on March 29 at Acton-Boxborough.
Along with approximately 200 others, English Department Head Sharon Krauss attended the event.
“Claudia gave a poised, compelling performance,” she said. “Her subject matter is both sensitive and tough, but her delivery was unflinching. She owned it! She was impressive and thought-provoking, which Marie Howe also noted in her remarks.”
Claudia said she was inspired by Marie Howe’s advice about the process of poetry writing.
“She had a lot of wisdom to give about her writing process and how she looks at poetry,” Claudia said. “She said that her poems write themselves. You can’t write the poem; you have to wait for it to come out, which was something I had never thought of.”
The experience also allowed Claudia to make friends with the other competitors.
“I was really excited to meet everyone,” Claudia said. “There were so many really great poets there who were all so talented, and now we recommend workshops and events to each other and places to submit our poems for publishing.”
Not long after the ceremony for the Creeley prizes, Claudia and four other classmates won both bouts in the preliminary rounds of the Louder than a Bomb slam poetry contest over the weekend of April 8 at the Sheraton Hotel in Boston. On May 5, Claudia will read her prize-winning work at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival in Salem.