Winners describe themselves as first-time, reluctant writers
Poetry has power. In the case of the annual contest sponsored by the Seward County Community College English department, poetry showed its power to surprise, triggering “total shock” from its two on-campus winners.
SCCC Humanities Division Coordinator Terri Barnes, a 30-year employee from Tyrone, Okla., won top honors in the open category for her poem “Camping.” Sophomore Tirzah Howery, a Liberal resident transplanted from Hoxie, Kan., claimed “Best poem by an SCCC student” and second place in the open category with her composition, “Who is Left When the World is Quiet.”
“I was flabbergasted,” said Howery. “Writing is part of who I am, but not poetry. It’s not what I do.”
As a member of the campus writing club, SCribblers, Howery entered the contest out of a sense of duty. “I’m encouraging everyone to participate, so I wanted to submit for that reason,” she said.
Barnes, too, was “in shock” when she learned her poem had been chosen as a winner by the outside judge; she had turned it in without much expectation of placing despite enthusiastic encouragement from lead English instructor Sherry Moentmann.
“This was my first year to run the contest, so I was constantly consulting Terri about timing, publicity, all my questions,” Moentmann recalled. “One thing I was certain about was that Terri should enter this poem she’d written. I remember telling her, ‘do it, do it, do it.’”
The English department has offered the poetry contest and coffeehouse events for more than a decade, with Barnes coordinating the process. Beginning in 2022, SCCC English instructors divided duties to keep important traditions alive. Separate instructors took charge of the SCribblers Creative Writing Club, the SCCC annual poetry contest and Creative Writers Coffeehouse, and publication of the college arts journal, Telolith.
“It’s been a department endeavor with Jason Pete, Gina Moore, and myself,” said Moentmann. “It’s so valuable to tap into their views and ideas.”
Meanwhile, Barnes and Howery, along with more than 50 contest entrants from Kansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado, were exploring the world of poetry writing.
“I just knew I didn’t want to write something pretentious,” Howery said with a laugh. “I like writing stories, and I’m interested in anthropology. When it comes to poetry, I think of it as a smattering of words that describes a feeling.”
Howery’s poem explores the power of silence contrasted with the noise of human experience from the everyday encounter to the bareness of winter and the limits of outer space.
“Spoiler alert,” Howery said. “It implies there can only be quiet when people are dead!”
Barnes’ poem began simply, almost as a list of observations from a summer camping trip.
“As I was walking back to the camper, I thought of something I wanted to remember, and I started jotting things down on paper as soon as I got there,” she said. “Eventually, I made it into a poem. I consider it very simple, a process of putting down what I was feeling in the moment to make a picture.”
In that respect, the poetic process resembles another of Barnes’ creative outlets: quilting.
“The process is similar, taking pieces and creating an overall pattern, refining what you want it to look like,” she said.
Even for the reluctant, writing poetry can be powerful.
“Poetry is super useful as a form of expression,” Howery said. “I have clinical anxiety, which I am sure contributed to the ideas in my poem. Writing things out helps us work through issues.” She also noted the power of words to influence readers and listeners. After graduating from SCCC, “I want to do linguistic anthropology, studying how languages affect culture,” she said. “Fairy tales in particular fascinate me. It shapes the way the child is going to view the world. When I visited the wolf sanctuary in Colorado, I made the connect that wolves literally almost went extinct, because of this idea of the big bad wolf as a threat. That’s fascinating. I want to learn more about why and how stories affect people.”
Barnes, whose upcoming retirement galvanized her to venture into participating as a writer, expressed a similar connection to storytelling.
“I think inside me, I have had a writer’s voice. I remember as a young child making up stories for my sisters when we would go to bed at night,” she said. Yet as an adult, “writing isn’t something I have actively pursued. Until now.”
Both winners will read their poems at the 2023 Creative Writers Coffeehouse planned for 7 p.m. April 21, in the SCCC Student Union.
“We always invite winners to read, along with other members of the local writing community on and off-campus,” Moentmann said.
Barnes, who will retire after this semester, said the award from the outside judge, a Pittsburg State University professor, “just adds to that good feeling of being here and being part of the humanities division.”
The public is invited to the Creative Writers Coffeehouse event, featuring light snacks, beverages, and live performances by SCCC and regional writers. It’s scheduled for 7 p.m. April 21 in the Student Union.
SCCC Poetry Contest Winners | 2022 – 2023
First Place: “Camping” by Terri Barnes, Tyrone, Oklahoma
Second Place: “Who is Left When the World Is Quiet” by Tirzah Howery, Liberal, KS
Third Place: “She Said, ‘The Red Foliage on That Tree Looks Nice,’ But I Could Only See Two Trees in the Distance” by Matthew McIntyre, Liberal, KS
Hon. Mention: “Unfamiliar Pain” by Mitch Watson, Garden City, KS
Best poem by SCCC student
“Who is Left When the World Is Quiet” by Tirzah Howery, Liberal, KS
High School Junior/Seniors
First Place: “Water Runs Down the City Steps” by Scarlett Buchman, Liberal, KS
Second Place: “The Grendel in Me” by Jadyn Chancey, Mooreland, OK
Third Place: “Burned Love” by Daisy Chanez, Walsh, CO
Hon. Mention: “The wind blows softly through the trees” by Scarlett Buchman, Liberal, KS
Youth Grades 6-10
First Place: “The Country” by Kelsie Allenbaugh, Vilas, CO
Second Place: “Korbin’s Church” by Trenton Davis, Sublette, KS
Third Place: “The Little V6 Mustang“ by Alex Grahn, Vilas, CO
Hon. Mention: “Farming and Ranching“ by Draven Ferch, Springfield, CO