Over blank paper,
Her red pistol
Ready to fire out letters,
The words she can’t tell him in person. …
Christine Mbakwe and Jodie Toohey’s skills in combining words and imagery won each first place in Bettendorf Public Library’s Love Poetry Contest, Mbakwe, whose words appear above, in the youth level and Toohey in the adult category.
Mbakwe, a senior at Rivermont Collegiate in Bettendorf, conceived “Love’s Pistol” while watching TV images related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Toohey, a Davenport resident, was inspired during a seemingly ordinary moment of driving her children to school. Their poetry will be shared at A Valentine for Faye Clow celebration Feb. 16 at the library. About 150 people participated in the contest, and Jean Valentine, a New York City poet, did the final judging.
Love relationships call for opening one’s self to the other person, becoming vulnerable – and that’s how Mbakwe feels about sharing her poetry. “I’ve always loved writing, but I’ve never entered a contest,” she said. Encouraged by an English teacher, she decided to risk submitting a poem about love holding tight through harsh realities.
Readers and listeners won’t discover images of blushes and shy looks exchanged in “Love’s Pistol.” The poem’s point of view flashes between a young woman and her lover who is deployed to the Middle East.
Mbakwe admits she doesn’t actually have a boyfriend in the military; however, she drew inspiration from her parents’ experience. Both are from Nigeria, and her dad described that country’s civil war (1967-70) and leaving family behind when immigrating to the United States.
Heavy subjects for a poem and a young writer. “I know teenagers are inexperienced in comparison to adults,” she said. “We don’t have jobs yet. We’re not paying the bills yet.”
However, teenagers can muse on the future and their ideas about life, and writing is a way of telling people who one is, she said.
Whenever there are strong emotions, poetry exists, said Hedy Hustedde, information librarian for Bettendorf Public Library.
Poetry contests sponsored by the library are open to poets, both youths and adults, who live within 50 miles of the Quad-Cities, and how they interpret the theme is totally up to them. That radius allows the library to encourage local talented writers who might not find recognition elsewhere.
“One remarkable thing we have discovered is that there is a lot of interest in poetry among youth, which is why we started having two age levels in our contests,” Hustedde said. “I think that is because whenever there are strong emotions, there is poetry. Growing up is an extremely emotional time, and poetry, that most intense of languages, runs rampant, Hustedde said.
Jodie Toohey of Jodie Toohey Writing Innovations said she was shocked to hear her poem “Out of the Blue” won first place in the adult division. She began writing poetry at 10 and published “Crush and Other Love Poems for Girls,” in 2008.
“Out of the Blue” describes driving her children to school and realizing time is passing — and they are growing up. “I will pull into the parking lot. My children will race to the doors of their school. I will move on, Move forward with my life,” she wrote.
Toohey said her children, an eight-grader and a fourth-grader, probably would be embarrassed if they knew about the poem. But she looks forward to writing more about those moments that grab at the heart.
“I haven’t written my favorite poem (yet). I’m still waiting,” she said.
The additional seven finalists at the youth level were Hanna Dodd, Coal Valley, for “Love;” Jacob Houghton, Davenport, for “A Brother’s Love;” Peter Kaufmann, Davenport, for “The Sights and Sounds of LOVE: Door County;” Kuyler Quijas, Davenport, for “Holding My Horses;” Blanca Palmer, Bettendorf, for “Another day flies by where my head’s in the sky;” Joann Weeks, Pleasant Valley, for “My Nephew, Jackson;” and Emily Roebuck, Davenport, for “Let’s go back to when life was simpler.”
The other seven finalists at the adult level were Shelley Little, Bettendorf, for “Remains of a Life;” Jeffrey Shumaker, Bettendorf, for “you are the abstract in my sense of wake;” Kris Tieso, Bettendorf, for “She Loved Him;” Ellen Tsagaris, Rock Island, for “Ballet Entrenous;” Leon Lucas, Bettendorf, for “My darlin; so beautiful;” Mike Bayles, Davenport, for “Before the Leaves Fall;” and Jane Knebel Pauwels, Rock Island, for “The Adopted Child.”
What: A Valentine for Faye Clow
When: Feb. 16, reception at 6:30 p.m., program at 7 p.m.
Where: Bettendorf Public Library
Details: The free event features music, art and a poetry reading by New York poet Jean Valentine. Shortly before her death on Feb. 18, 2011, Clow listened to poetry from Valentine’s book, “Break the Glass.” Heart-shaped cookies baked by library staff members will be served during the reception with classical music performed by students from Davenport Central High School.