Kennedy scores at first Project Poet

Release Date: 9/14/2011

Stephen Kennedy, who won the opening volley at this year's first Project Poet, has discovered the pleasure of performing for an audience. "I was involved in my high school literary magazine," he says. "Originally I wrote short stories, but I found out writing poems took a lot less time, so that got me started."

Kennedy, a history and literature major from Topeka, Kansas by way of Bella Vista, has published two volumes of his verse, Ash Tree Meadow - Sea of Bitterness and With A Loaded Gun. Like two of his favorite poets, T.S. Eliot and e.e. cummings, Kennedy has self-published his verse, though he is currently investigating markets.

Stephen Kennedy, winner of the first challenge in the 2001 season of Project Poet.

Stephen Kennedy, winner of the first round of Project Poet, recites his verse to a rapt audience. The competition is in its sixth year.

"I have huge documents that are nothing but poems," Kennedy says. "I haven't sent too much of it out, though I plan to. I did publish in Falstaff." Falstaff is the U of O's literary magazine.

"I write a lot of poetry whenever I get the chance," Stephen says. "Right now I'm taking Civil War & Reconstruction, Modern American Literature, Historiography - that's a mind blower! - plus American National Government, Medieval World, and Badminton. So I've got a full plate."

He says the thing he likes best about Project Poet is finding that audience for his work. "I do all this writing," he explained, "but it doesn't seem to have any purpose unless I have some sort of reaction or audience for it. So I like that I can go out and perform it as an actual group of people. It becomes more real, an actual real piece of art, rather than just a piece of paper with words on it." This is his second year to participate.

As much as he enjoys performing, Stephen adds that he considers spoken poems and written poems two different things. "Sometimes I do things on paper that I can't really vocalize," he says, "but it's interesting, I think, to perform."

In addition to Eliot and cummings - "I don't fully understand everything Eliot writes, but I'm working on it; and I especially enjoy cummings' more abstract pieces" - Stephen enjoys the work of former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. "He's fantastic," he says.

Following graduation, he plans to pursue graduate school and become a teacher.

Below is Kennedy’s poem “Elizabeth,” which he read at Project Poet’s opening night:

Elizabeth
Copyright 2011, Stephen Kennedy

What's a brother to do
In the shade shallow years of youth,
But tease and play and enjoy himself?
Even at the expense of siblings
In memories that seem of a constant summer
Trees:Forts, Boxes;Castles, and Staircases:Mountains
That seem to balk every expedition to their peaks.
What's a brother to do
With a life yet to feel the creeping cold,
Winter's honeyed vinegar?

So, yes, I was the one who pulled along the potato sack
Knowing full well it was you inside a comforter
Who I put onto the "conveyer" to be fried
I was the one who laughed with you
As a snow white costume ran round,
Dressed in my brother's face
I was the one who refused to play Pretty Pretty Princess
Unless you conceded that I was indeed, instead a Prince

And I was the one who threw things at you
Who yelled at you
Who raged and whined and growled at your existence
The one who can, somewhat truthfully, say, "I love you, now"
I was the one who was jealous of your birth
The one who hated to share the attention
The one who took every chance to call attention to flaw
To correct, to spray with a water hose,
Should the chance arise.

What's a brother to do
When the shadows loom across the horizon
Insulated by a deck of playing cards?
When the phone rings and doorbell chimes,
Far too close for the distance between?
What's a brother to do
To protect a brother from the truth?
To keep the cheer, to be strong,
In the face of cancer's stoney arm.

And I was the one who swore to your honor
And hoped to fight any who questioned it
Who wanted to defend you fist by fist
‘Til my own uselessness faded back
And I was the one who held your hand
Who smiled at your pale frail frame
As you struggled those steps
The self-same you walked with confidence before

Whose heart broke at every pain endured
That would break my own will

What's a brother to do
When he feels as useless as a feather
To his own sister fighting the giant's armies.

Based on Bravo TV's program "Project Runway," the "Project Poet" competition presents contestants with a new challenge each week. Contestants read their entries before the panel of three faculty/staff judges, and the audience, who acts as the fourth judge. When all votes are tallied, one contestant wins immunity for the next week's challenge, while two or three others go "out of print." The contestants who make it through to each successive round are given more difficult challenges as the competition progresses.

The final five poets who make it through all the challenges receive a cash prize: the fifth-place winner will receive $50; fourth-place $75; third-place $125; second-place $250; and the overall winner receives $500, as well as the title of Poet Laureate of the Spadra Valley. University president Dr. Rick Niece and first-lady Sherée have donated the prize money for this season's competition. This is Project Poet's sixth year.  For more information about the competition, see http://students.ozarks.edu/studentlife/events/projectpoet/.