Jordan Laney, a postdoc researcher at the Virginia Tech Dept. of Religion and Culture, has won the Moundsville poetry contest.
Poet Crystal Good says she was inspired by the documentary film (which you can rent for $3.99 here) to run the competition for national poetry month in April because of the film’s treatment of race, the cyclical nature of history, and the part we gave to West Virginia poet laureate Marc Harshman, one of her favorites.
The three poems she picked as winners — all meditations around the 2,250-year-old Native American mound — “were rich and lovely and I hope you enjoy reading them,” she says.
Laney, the first-place finisher, says she “entered the contest as a challenge to myself during National Poetry Month– to be more productive and public with my work.”
The film, she wrote me in an email,
had a story and cadence that reminded me of my hometown, Marion, North Carolina and our beloved “old Wal-Mart” (not to be confused with the new Wal-Mart on I-40). The “old Wal-Mart” that I went to as a child is now half Big Lots, half vacant building and sits on top of/in front of an indigenous burial ground. I was moved by the similar emotions of different generations throughout rural America can be seen through the stories you captured in Moundsville– the ability to stay for older generations (the hope the mill and mines offered) and the struggle to return and thrive for younger generations (despite a college education). Through the film, I enjoyed being reminded of the rich material culture in our small towns and the way the present moment interacts with history through both stories and the literal ground we walk on. I’m looking forward to visiting Moundsville, WV.
Here’s her poem:
They carried earth in baskets
high above furrowed brows
feet in Ursa Major, dragging
onward, to Polaris
wandering, making hollers
and ridges of skylines
For supper, soft round soil
silt clay sand
dirt between teeth, sweet on the tongue
swallowing, to know
what it means to be
of a place in a place
to be a place
After long days of work
water wheel planting
Pelleted fertilizer, fire
deep in good dirt
pushing life into emptiness
backs bent and dreaming
we closed our eyes and we ate
glutinous by nature
When baskets were empty, stomachs
swollen (all water, organic matter gone)
we carried seeds in our teeth
blood blistered lips to the ground
speaking life into rows
subsoil topsoil red soil
peat chernozems loess
Praying, bleeding, waiting
drought and flood
resigning. until only
the discovery recovery uncovering
Second place goes to Nora Edinger, a writer for Weelunk.com in Wheeling, who wrote one of the first reviews of Moundsville. (Disclosure: We had no say in the selection process.)
The Moundsville Method
They carried the earth in baskets.
One does what one can to make a forever mark.
Have a baby. Write a book.
Attract 90 million followers on You Tube.
Build a mountain where there was nothing but flatness.
And third place goes to Andrea Keller, a conservationist at the Grave Creek Mound and a participant in the film. (Same note as for number 2.)
Grave Creek Mound Contemplation
I stand looking up
Those who rest here
Three million loads of Earth
Those who rest here
Who will remember me
When I rest
All three winners will receive a free Moundsville DVD, and jewelry made by Crystal Good. Poets, she told me, “are keepers of the past, present and future. Poets look for the poem and Moundsville is full of them.”
John W. Miller