Over 80 poets, budding troubadours all, answered the call to compete for our Troubadour Poetry Award. The award, established by Milton Siegele, celebrates the union of music, language, and storytelling.
When we asked Siegele’s reasons for establishing the award, he said, “Stories meet our most primal need to understand life. Many of the best stories are told through music. The lyrics speak the words and the music translates the words into emotion and passion, some gut-wrenching and painful and some bringing joy.”
Siegele said that he was influenced by many different styles and genres, from the blues of John Lee Hooker and B.B. King to classic rock groups like The Beatles and Journey.
In fact, about the time he was envisioning the Troubadour Poetry Award, Siegele wrote a poem inspired by reflections of his home state of Kansas, and Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin.
What led Siegele to get more involved with Whispering Prairie Press and to create the award? He said during a visit to Kansas City, he’d picked up a copy of Kansas City Voices, and “it only took a minute to see that it is an extremely high quality, sophisticated publication.”
Picking the prizewinners was not an easy task. Alan Proctor, judge for the contest, is a writer and a musician. Proctor studied classical guitar for many years when he was young but concluded he might not be good enough to make a living at it. Nevertheless, he performed in coffeehouses and wrote poetry, which he set to music.
He’s written humorous pieces, fiction, and most recently a memoir, The Sweden Files: Memoir of an American Expatriate, published last year by Westphalia Press. The Kansas City Star named it one of the Best Memoirs of 2015.
Proctor has also served on the editorial board of Whispering Prairie Press. In judging the contest, he said he used all his skills, “both sides of my brain…as a writer and as a musician,” in selecting the winners. He said the first place winner, “had a feeling like an old folk song, like Frankie and Johnny…It was lyrical, slightly enigmatic. It was very tight writing, good rhyme scheme, ballad-like…It could be set to music.”
Kate Lacy, whose poem, Chapter 2: Strangers No More, won first place, told us she had been substituting in a junior high physical science class. The poem came to her during class: “The teacher left computer assignments and I had nothing to do…..and that damn song sequence had been waking me up at night for weeks…..so I whipped out my yellow legal pad and started tapping out the three cadences of Willie’s verses.” When Lacy received the email telling her she’d won first place in the Troubadour Contest, she was teaching the same class. She asked the students “if they remembered that day I was humming and tapping out a song….some did. So they were the first to hear the news!”
Jo Lynne Martinez wrote the 2nd place winner, The I’ve Been on This Bus Too Long Blues, influenced by Janis Joplin. Martinez teaches freshman and sophomore English, Creative Writing, and Journalism at Kansas City Academy. When Whispering Prairie Press asked her about her poem, she answered, “As an older teenager, I discovered the blues through the music of Janis Joplin, and my love of her singing is legendary in my family. When I told them about the award and that I’d won for a poem inspired by a singer, I didn’t even have to tell them who. They just said, ‘Janis, right?’”
Melissa Fite Johnson, who wrote After Another Failed Romance, the Songwriter Returns to His Guitar, won 3rd place, inspired by Mark Oliver Everett of the indie rock band, Eels. Johnson is an English teacher at Pittsburg High School. Her first poetry book, While The Kettle’s On, published by Little Balkans Press, 2015, won the Kansas Authors Club Nelson Poetry Book Award in 2015.
We are grateful to everyone who made this special contest possible.
– by Erika Zeitz