Ahmed continues Mount Holyoke’s winning streak in poetry competition

Photo by Qin Li ’21  From right to left: judges Anna Maria Hong and Martín Espada announce the competition’s winners, Dur-e-Maknoon Ahmed ’20 and Sarah Terrazano.

Photo by Qin Li ’21

From right to left: judges Anna Maria Hong and Martín Espada announce the competition’s winners, Dur-e-Maknoon Ahmed ’20 and Sarah Terrazano.

BY SIDNEY BOKER ’21

A hush of anticipation fell over Gamble Auditorium as the first student-poet took the podium for the 96th annual Kathryn Irene Glascock Intercollegiate Poetry Competition. The competition was established by the parents of Kathryn Glascock ’22 and the then-chairperson of the Mount Holyoke English Department, Ada Snell. It honors Glascock, who died of pneumonia a few months after graduating from Mount Holyoke.

The competition invites six undergraduates to submit and read their poetry, which is then judged by a panel of three esteemed poets. Past judges have included Robert Frost, Audre Lorde and William Carlos Williams. The judges comment on the students’ poetry and read their own work on the event’s second day.

This year the committee was cochaired by Associate Professors of English Wesley Yu and Iyko Day and comprised of Visiting Lecturer in English Andrea Lawlor, Associate Professor of English Kate Singer and Associate Professor of English Suparna Roychoudhury, as well as seven Mount Holyoke students.

According to the competition’s website, Glascock was an accomplished student who worked on the Mount Holyoke News and received numerous honors and awards for her poetry during her time at Mount Holyoke.

The judges for this year were Martín Espada, a Latinx poet and professor at UMass Amherst; Dawn Lundy Martin, a conceptual video artist, essayist and poet and Anna Maria Hong, poet, author and editor. Lundy Martin was unable to attend either day of the event due to a personal emergency.

This year’s competitors were Mount Holyoke College’s Dur-e-Maknoon Ahmed ’20, Brandeis University’s Sarah Terrazano, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Vilhelm “Billy” Anderson Woltz, Smith College’s Julia Falkner, Spelman College’s Ariana Benson and The New School’s John Krug.

Terrazano took the podium first and introduced the poem “Source,” saying, “it’s about my mom.” She explained that her poems “Fire in the Woods” and “Resonance” are both inspired by Walden Pond, located near Brandeis, where she spends a lot of time. “How To Break Up With Your Pediatrician” changed the tone from reflective to humorous, beginning with the line “It’s not you, it’s me.”

The next poet, Woltz, began by stating that his first collection, “A broken water heater,” is “a series of sonnets” followed by the longer piece, “An ostrich, a pheasant and a seagull walk into a bar.” A dynamic reader, Woltz mimed the phone call between his mother and preschool teacher about the time he bit another preschooler. His second poem started with a comedic anecdote about having “Bird Poop Disease” and was interspersed with joking hand motions. However, the piece quickly changed tone, becoming a somber account of a friend’s concussion which caused him to lose the motor skills required for carving wooden birds.

Ahmed, who read next, credited the poems that inspired her own pieces. She included directly translated lines from the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, who wrote in Urdu, in her poem “Early Spring.” She explained that she writes in the language “that was imposed on [her]” — English. Ahmed read in a wavering, emotional voice varying between the verge of tears and near shouting.

Falkner, the fourth reader, changed a few words when she read “Souls of Persons Deposited in a Bag,” so it was slightly different from the version in the program. She also explained how her fear of bodily fluids and chemicals combined in swimming pools led her to compose her poem “Nude” after she “forced [her]self to go swimming three times.”

Benson, unable to attend the reading, allowed a student committee member to read her poems and requested that the student tell the audience that much of her poetry was inspired by her trip to Ghana. Her poem, “The Moon Still Rises,” influenced by a Ghanaian proverb, was printed in the shape of a crescent moon.

Krug, the final reader, read with a smooth, soft voice and looked out at the audience after almost every line. His pieces took inspiration from his travels, most explicitly in “Ode to a Bengali Tea Shop” and from his home in New York. The audience laughed at the repeated line “please don’t get on the six train wearing that.”

The winners were announced Saturday, March 23 in the Stimson Room, after the judges’ readings of their own poetry. The winners were Mount Holyoke’s Ahmed and Terrazano of Brandeis. Ahmed’s success marks the third consecutive year for a Mount Holyoke student to win the competition. At the reception after the event, Terrazano said, “It‘s been really enjoyable and inspiring to talk with peers with interests closely aligned with mine. I loved hearing all the other contestants read their poetry.”

“It was an honor to be the contestant for Mount Holyoke, and an honor to win, especially to share the win with the very talented [Terrazano],” Ahmed said. “The contest itself was a very affirming and uplifting experience. My friends, professors and mentors attended the reading to support me, and were there to celebrate with me as well.”