Twenty-six letters. That’s all we have in our alphabet, yet the ways they’re used to form poems, narratives and arguments are infinite. Twenty-six letters. That’s a lot of reading when you hand them over to the care of people skilled in the ways of plot, assonance or rhetoric.
At the same time, there’s something anemic about the act of writing. Words are mere symbols for the reality of objects, events and experiences. “Words.” That simple utterance reminds us of their limits. Words are easy. Actions are much more difficult. But sometimes they’re all we settle for. Sometimes they’re just enough. At their best, they’re more than enough. Words hold us to ideals, or at least create visions of their attainment.
It’s up to the writer to make words transcend their limits. We know great writing when words are imbued with a certain power to move. The Greeks knew this first, and explained it best. “To express oneself badly is not only faulty as far as language goes, but does harm to the soul.” So wrote Plato in the dialogue of Phaedo.
This year’s entries didn’t exactly rush in as in years past. Perhaps it was summer heat that sapped energy levels. Maybe it was post-Sept. 11 and stock-market malaise that moved people in other directions. No matter. When all the judging was finished, this year’s batch of winners did us proud. James A. McLaughlin’s “Southern Gothic, ca 2001” could be worthy of a mid-career Cormac McCarthy. It’s gothic alright, but between all the creepy vibes, there’s a stern, purposeful method at work. “Punch,” by Heidi C. Neubauer-Winterburn, is the kind of poetry we should come across more often. Stunning in its restrained sentiment, it shows just as much as it hides, and goes down a treat. Among the essay category, first-place winner Deborah Ricks serves us beautifully rendered sketches and sensations of Utah life—a way of life fast disappearing.
About the judges:
Poetry judge Christopher Arigo is a widely published poet and poetry reviewer, with work recently appearing in literary journals such as Fourteen Hills, Phoebe and Fine Madness. His first collection of poetry, Lit interim, won the Transcontinental Poetry Prize (selected by David Bromige) and will be published next month by Pavement Saw Press. He currently teaches English and creative writing at Rowland Hall-St. Mark’s Upper School.
Essay judge Ben Fulton is associate editor of City Weekly and the recipient of several journalism awards.
Fiction judge Andrea Malouf is editor of Salt Lake magazine, current president of Writers @ Work, and writes for a local design firm. Her work has appeared in Catalyst magazine, City Weekly and the Park City Journal. She holds an M.A. in English and spends her free time writing fiction.
Fiction judge Jason Matthew Smith is Salt Lake magazine’s associate editor. His short fiction has appeared in a handful of literary journals. A native Texan without an accent (a fluke occurring in only one out of every 10,000 Texas births), Smith spends all his money on rare books and Scotch whisky.
WINNER PHOTOS BY FRED HAYES