Earlier this year, we launched our “Continue” Poetry Contest with the Caged Bird Legacy to commemorate Dr. Maya Angelou’s 90th birthday on April 4th, 2018. Dr. Angelou was an impactful poet and civil rights leader, and today we are excited to announce the winners on her would-be 90th birthday and launch our Limited Edition "Continue" Pillow Cover!
Thank you so much to all who participated - we received hundreds of entries and truly appreciate the thought each and every one of you put into your work. Our winners are as follow:
Grand Prize: Linda McCauley Freeman, “The Women Before Me”
1st Place: Jacqueline Peveto, "Carry On"
2nd place: Eric Onyango Otieno, “The Way You Held My Hands”
Congratulations to our winners! Please enjoy these brilliant pieces below.
“The Women Before Me” by Linda McCauley Freeman
Hobbled & bound, pressed bodies into shapes inhuman, muffled. Lived life sentences. Some said no. Some said no more. Stood & shouted & suffered—a sisterhood scorned, abused, shackled, spat upon. More said no. More said no more. Some said me too. Then more. Now, not to doubt or dream but live—uncaged & mighty. We spread a thousand wings of joy—dissolve great granites of despair, hold possibility in our palms. We were hobbled & bound, pressed our bodies into shapes inhuman, muffled & silenced, lived life sentences. More say no. More say no more. Each of us a cloud—always moving, yet always knowing exactly where we are.
Linda McCauley Freeman’s “The Women Before Me” weaves the narrative of the feminist struggles of Maya Angelou’s time with the current “Me, too” movement and widespread push against the history of sexual misconduct by powerful men. The poem recalls these lines from Angelou’s “Still I rise”: “Does my sexiness upset you? / Does it come as a surprise / That I dance like I’ve got diamonds / At the meeting of my thighs?” The speaker begins in despair as she recounts the history of her sisters who fought for their rights, but as the poem continues, they reclaim their womanhood, uncage themselves, and ascend into a powerful confidence.
“Carry On” by Jacqueline Peveto
Every day, let me carry letters already sent but not read enough. Under pressure, let me press flowers between the pages of your story. In the margin, let me be the note saying the words that hold up the sky will hold you, too.
Jacqueline Peveto’s “Carry On” demonstrates ways in which a hero can be carried with the person they’ve impacted. These remembrances are not large monuments, but intimate and personal gestures through which the speaker still feels the influence of an important figure in her everyday life. The poem’s final lines bloom with multiple meanings—these words will hold up the sky, they will hold Maya Angelou’s legacy, and they will metaphorically hold the speaker of the poem—and through these words, all will “carry on.”
“The Way You Held My Hands” by Eric Onyango Otieno
I remember my tiny-hearted self Looking for something to read In a small Ugandan library That day I came across your words Never in my life Had I been touched so tangibly By such verse, vigor and victory The way I felt held Celebrating and lamenting The way I felt loved by a stranger I just met in a book And you became an instant friend To walk me through my journey Who always whispers, "keep going."
Eric Onyango Otieno’s “The Way You Held My Hands” demonstrates the importance of children encountering literature which acts as a window to the world and simultaneously a mirror for the self. The speaker of this poem begins with a “tiny heart” in a “small Ugandan library,” but when he encounters literature that moves him and becomes a metaphorical companion, the world seems to open up, breathe, become larger. This poem, addressed directly to Maya Angelou as a sort of poetic letter, shows us the power that language and literature can have, not just to move us, but to be the force that keeps us going.
Thank you to the Caged Bird Legacy and our judge Dana Alsamsam for your insight and expertise!
Dana Alsamsam is a Syrian-American poet from Chicago and an MFA candidate at Emerson College. She is assistant poetry editor at Redivider and editorial assistant at Ploughshares. Dana's chapbook (in)habit is forthcoming from tenderness, yea press and her poems are published or forthcoming in Poetry East, Hobart, DIALOGIST, The Collapsar, Blood Orange Review, Bad Pony Mag, Tinderbox Poetry, Cosmonauts Avenue, BOOTH and others.