When Shaileen Beyer of the Enoch Pratt Free Library contacted Little Patuxent Review to inquire if we’d be interested in partnering for a third year on a statewide poetry contest, we agreed without hesitation.
By the time the contest concluded on March 1, nearly 250 entries from 93 cities and towns, representing 17 counties plus Baltimore City, were submitted in the blind contest. Little Patuxent Review editor Steven Leyva, LPR poetry editor Laura Shovan and LPR poetry readers Evan Lasavoy and Patricia VanAmberg judged the poems. Although they chose three finalists, all of whom will appear in our Summer 2015 issue, “Sole” by Inga Lea Schmidt was the winning poem.
I asked the judges what made this poem a stand out. Patricia, who is also an English professor at Howard Community College, said:
Playful wording of the poem “Sole” appeals in many ways: The first of these is vivid and specific imagery—all the way from a fish that “looks like a tongue”—to the solitary cup of coffee. Consistent themes of loneliness/flatness ensure that the diverse meanings of the word “sole” bond coherently. Sound devices like the judicious alliteration of S (solitary—seven—seconds) enhance the flow. Finally, the poem is well crafted with effective line breaks and transition.
“Sole” is a clever poem that doesn’t get caught up in its own cleverness, doesn’t get smug about it. While it’s structured like a dictionary definition, it reads like a plain spoken explanation. This allows the poet room to explore beyond the strict meaning of the word, to wander off on tangents right from the beginning that open the poem up and give it room to reach out beyond itself. It was the simple, yet compelling, voice of “Sole” that first struck me; its movement and nuance won me.
Inga shared her own thoughts about “Sole.”
I love when poems veer off course. With the first few lines you have a pretty good idea of where the whole thing is headed, you know exactly what you’re looking at, and then it happens: a turn. It can be subtle at first, but soon the poem is turning and twisting away from you and before you know it, you are so far from where you started.
This is the effect I wanted to achieve with “Sole,” which was inspired by Phillis Levin’s beautiful “Part,” another poem that breaks down the definition of a word. I began with the structure of a dictionary entry, straightforward and dry, then gradually introduced bits of myself and what the word “sole” means to me personally. I liked the idea of something so clinical — a dictionary definition — becoming something revealing and human. The flatfish turns to feet, turns to solitaire, turns to intimate feelings of isolation and unsettlement. I hope when readers finish the poem, they feel they are far from where they started.
“Sole” can be seen on display in Enoch Pratt Free Library’s front windows starting next week. On Saturday, May 2 during the CityLit Festival, please join us at the Little Patuxent Review session in the Poe Room (11 to 11:45 am) where Inga will read “Sole.” In addition LPR editors Ann Bracken and Steven Leyva will joined by contest finalists James Carroll (“Nick’s Diner”) and Micia White (“Rest Stop”).
Enoch Pratt Free Library Poetry Contest Winner:
By Inga Lea Schmidt
Sole: a flatfish,
small fins, small eyes,
small mouth, it looks
like a tongue. Also
a shoe’s solid base or
the undersurface of a foot,
a calloused pillar where
the weight of a person
is carried, where the one hundred
and forty eight pounds of
blood and bone and brain
and too much thought and fear
rest. An adjective:
having no companion: solitary.
A card game I can win
in two minutes and
seven seconds. From the French
seul, meaning only, as in,
being the only one, as in,
am I the only one? Sole:
having no sharer. Sharing
with no one. Use it in
a sentence: I make a sole cup
of coffee, sit at the window,
Online Editor’s Note: Inga Lea Schmidt is a poet and fiction writer living in Baltimore. Her work has appeared in Off the Coast, Puerto del Sol, and Best Indie Lit of New England, and, in 2013, she received the Association of Writers & Writing Programs’ Intro Journals Project Award. When she isn’t writing, Inga works as a mediator resolving conflicts in Baltimore prisons. In the fall, she will begin an MFA program in Creative Writing at Hollins University.
To learn more about how the collaboration between LPR and the Enoch Pratt began read “Meet the Neighbors: Enoch Pratt Free Library.”