Each fall, the RCAH Center for Poetry holds the Richard Benvenuto High School Poetry Competition, cosponsored by the Mid-Michigan chapter of the National Society of Arts and Letters.
Richard Ercole Benvenuto taught in the English Department at Michigan State University for 20 years. From his office in Morrill Hall he conducted grad student seminars and advised students on the best paths for their lives. He loved teaching and was a published scholar of Victorian Literature. At the time of his death, Indiana University dedicated an issue of Victorian Studies in his honor. He published two biographies, one on Emily Bronte and the other on Amy Lowell. His next book would have been on Oscar Wilde. As a young grad student he was awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, which he used to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing at Hollins College, Virginia. At Hollins College, he worked under William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies. Richard played music and wrote poetry throughout his life. He was married for 27 years to his wife, Joyce and has three children and four grandchildren.
This year’s call for entries in the Richard Benvenuto High School Poetry Competition resulted in more than 200 entries, with up to three poems each, from high school students all around Michigan.
We can assure you that the selection was not a simple matter, and we’re thrilled that poetry remains alive and vibrant in our state’s classrooms. If you are one of the poets not chosen this time, please don’t be discouraged—keep writing, and keep submitting!
This year’s winners are invited to read their winning poems before Nathan and Marvin Bell‘s reading/performance at the RCAH Center for Poetry on Wednesday, November 11.
Congratulations to all of the 7th Annual Richard Benvenuto High School Poetry Competition Winners!
First Place Winner
St. Joseph High School
I prefer to make my home in the trees,
the bark rough against my skin.
Here, the chandeliers are the sun
and the moon.
I prefer dirt
under my nails;
the soles of my feet are as dark
as Fifth Avenue umbrellas.
I prefer bruises flowering my legs
instead of the perfect tan.
Give me blue and green, maybe yellow–
I’m not afraid to show I’ve lived.
I prefer to keep my eyes wide open,
searching for the nearest blank canvas,
than held down by a winged black line
that dictates who is pretty
and who isn’t.
I prefer a thin red raincoat–
its crinkles are the soundtrack to my breathing.
There is no perfume here, only
basil and the smell of pine needles,
charred after a late summer burning.
You can live among the diamonds,
but I will thrive amidst the dirt.
Second Place Winner
Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy
One day you’re going to forget me.
I can’t handle that
I can’t even handle the thought of that.
You’re going to call me Cindy,
And I’ll have to act as though I am.
Because you won’t remember that your baby girl is dead,
And I’m her daughter.
You’ll forget all of us
Your grandkids, great grandkids
You’ll forget us all.
But I will never forget you
I’ll always remember the man you used to be
Not too long ago you were one of the smartest guys of I knew.
Now you’re working your way backwards
One day you’ll wake up and wonder who the lady lying next to you is,
And what happened to your beautiful wife.
Your thoughts often distract you
You’ll think to yourself,
Catching yourself in the act.
You’ll put that cute half smile on your face
And walk away.
It’s those moments of confusion that help us realize,
Realize that you are still there.
We know you will never be back,
But we can still hope that you will stay with us.
Third Place Winner
Detroit Catholic Central
Brown and dusty shop,
Wooden shelves and glass display,
Springtime on a cool and sunny day.
Medals pinned against the wall,
And my father behind me.
His hands placed on my shoulders.
I saw a camo cap
Sitting on display
Wandered over, to take a closer look.
Eagle, Globe, and Anchor,
Imprinted on the ironed cloth.
He said, “Son, that’s the cover of a US Marine.”
My heart started to race
As I picked it off the shelf
Thinking of my family
The Company and Crew.
At seven years old
I was ready to be a hero.
He broke down and bought it
After not much persuasion
And I wore it with pride from then on.
Now it’s my father
Who looks at me the way
I looked in the mirror
As a seven year old.
The door slamming shut as I sat at the dinner table alone.
Shouting and banging, I remember being terrified.
Staring into my plate,
As if the peas knew how to stop their fighting so we could all be happy again.
Sliding a note under the door, a child’s attempt to put a Band-Aid on a fracture.
Then I remember his suitcase being packed, I had nightmares that night.
That suitcase was there for ten more years.
The time the divorce almost happened,
Then the time it actually happened.
I remember my suitcase leaving home for the last time.
I didn’t sleep that first night.
I didn’t feel at home again.