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2017 Newman Young Writers Awards

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CONTACT: OU Institute for US-China Issues, 405-325-3580

NORMAN – Four Oklahomans have won 2017 Newman Young Poet’s Awards, a poetry contest held in conjunction with the University of Oklahoma’s Newman Prize for Chinese Literature. They will be honored Friday March 3 at an awards banquet at the University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.

The winners are Tuttle Intermediate School fifth grader Colby Baumann, Carver Middle School seventh grader Jennifer Sosa, Norman High’s Elizabeth Blazek, and the University of Oklahoma’s Lindsay Jones. Each winner will receive a $500 check and a commemorative certificate. 

The four Newman Young Poet’s Award recipients were selected from over 450 entries representing nearly every region of Oklahoma. 

The Newman Prize for Chinese Literature is awarded biennially to recognize outstanding achievement in prose or poetry that best capture the human condition and conferred solely on the basis of literary merit. The 2017 Newman Prize winner is Wang Anyi, a Shanghai novelist who will also be honored Friday night. Past winners include the Taiwanese writer Chu T’ien-wen, Taiwanese poet Yang Mu (2013) and Mainland Chinese novelists Mo Yan and Han Shaogong who won in 2009 and 2011 respectively. Mo Yan, the 2009 laureate, has since been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. 

Beginning in 2013, the Newman Young Poet’s Awards were given to the best Classical Chinese jueju poem written in English following the method invented by Professor Jonathan Stalling at OU. Jueju is a traditional form of Chinese poetry with four lines of five or seven characters/monosyllabic word lines. In 2013, students composed the five-word version. This year they composed the more challenging seven-word version. The majority of this year’s winners not only followed basic rules of composition (meter, rhyme, and thematic constraint), but also followed rules of parallelism, requiring them to compose their poems both vertically and horizontally at the same time. 

The winner of the college/adult category, Lindsay Jones, worked this parallelism into her poem while at the same time evoking the changes that occur in the shift from winter to spring through rich images:

Dead leaves  stark sky  cold winds blow
Brown grass  gray clouds  chill air flows
New roots  rich land  warm earth holds
Deep down  sprouts reach  start to grow

If you read the poems horizontally, you will see that the shift from winter to spring can be read as both dramatic and also at the same time subtle. If you read the poem vertically, you will find the words are composed to reflect the rules of parallelism: “dead” can be seen as parallel with “brown,” and antiparallel with “new.” The same is true of the next column: “leaves” is parallel with “grass” and can be seen as anti-parallel with “roots,” as leaves and grass are above ground, while roots live below the surface. The following columns work to create the same effect. This pattern represents the ancient Chinese belief that poets should balance the ‘yin and yang’ to restore balance and harmony to the world in every poem. These complex rules make this poetic genre one of the most complicated forms in world literature.  

High school winner Elizabeth Blazek composed a vivid piece depicting a quiet but eventful evening, in which one can feel the breeze and see the night stars through her delicate choice of words. Her poem conveys a feeling of contented excitement:

Vast sky  sparse clouds  stars shine bright
Clear air   soft breeze    moon glows white
Swift streak  hands held   wish is cast
Brief smile  warm touch  heart grows light

Middle school winner Jennifer Sosa’s poem evokes a very Oklahoman scene, where the weather can shift dramatically from ‘blue’ to ‘grey’ in the space of a minute, and a storm rolls in to create a “tense” sky. But there is a twist at the end, a sort of phenomenological question about whether what one sees is ‘real’ or not:

Clear air  warm breeze  white clouds gleam
Blue sky    birds sing       low lone stream
Grey clouds  tense air      storm I see
Calm now     slight wind    it’s a dream.

Elementary school winner Colby Baumann wrote a poem full of sound; in his imagistic lines, readers can both see and hear the wind and the waves, and the imagination is stoked by suggestive words:

Blue sea     bright sun     green grass grows
Sharp rocks small clouds calm breeze blows
New boats   old rocks     waves crash down
Sun sets     moon rise      the sea flows

For more information, please visit the Newman Young Poets Awards homepage. You can also contact Dr. Peter Gries, OU Institute for US-China Issues, at 405-325-1962 or Dr. Jonathan Stalling, OU English Department and Chinese Literature Today, at 405-325- 6973

Contacts and poems:

Elementary School Winner:
Colby Baumann, 5th Grade, Tuttle Intermediate School
Teacher: Gena Waitman,

Middle School Winner:
Jennifer Sosa, 7th grade, Carver Middle School
Teacher: Patty M. Jorgenson,  

High School Winner:
Elizabeth Blazek, Norman High School
Teacher: Alice Nan,  

College/Adult Winner:
Lindsay Jones, University of Oklahoma,