LATROBE, PA – The winners of Saint Vincent College’s 2021 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Poetry Competition have been announced, with junior English major Isabel Sicree’s composition, entitled “Baptism by Fire,” taking first-place honors.
Sicree, a native of Boalsburg, recited her poem following a Feb. 12 virtual presentation by award-winning creative professional, producer, columnist and author Ryan Bomberger as part of Saint Vincent College’s commemoration of Rev. Dr. King’s birthday.
Nicole Fratrich, senior English major from Seward, placed second with her poem “Heart Matters,” while “Be Bold and Believe” by Elizabeth Elin, sophomore theology and biology double major from Terrace Park, Ohio, placed third.
The theme of the 2021 poetry competition was “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” derived from a March 1965 sermon given by Rev. Dr. King in Selma, Alabama, after the brutal “Bloody Sunday” attack in which civil rights protesters were beaten and 26-year-old activist Jimmie Lee Johnson was shot by police.
“All of the winning poems came at this theme from deeply inward, as well as outwardly conscious, angles,” said Michelle Gil-Montero, professor of English. “Isabel’s first-place poem captures much of the urgency of King’s statement. Its precise subject is elusive – we never know what injustice has faced the speaker’s family – but the situation is clear: judgement and prejudice threaten to erase, to ‘invalidate’ them, and the words in this poem counter that threat.
“When the poem ends on the very question of ‘existence,’ we realize this battle is a matter of life and death. Words, poems, just as King implied in his sermon, are life blood.”
This marked the sixth annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Poetry Competition at Saint Vincent College. Co-sponsored by the College’s Department of English and the Office of Student and Multicultural Life, the contest is designed to recognize and encourage student writing of multicultural poetry while spreading awareness and understanding of King’s vision.
BAPTISM BY FIRE
By Isabel Sicree
My sister’s hand held in mine
Long forgotten by all except me,
Validates my family
Even under stone-eyed stares
And off-hand comments,
Made by friends more often than not.
All that is negligible
For it holds no substance of its own
But relies on the existence
One cannot be judged for existing
Without having existed.
By Nicole Fratrich
Heartbeats thumping morse code,
Drowning out brain’s mindless chatter,
Pump signals of healthy emotional reasoning:
Heart truths and
Frontal lobe discipline,
Limbic logics overrun.
Mind over matter
Is no simple matter
As a heart pulses to be heard
Above mind’s distortions.
A heart’s S.O.S.
Pierces the web of thoughts,
Shooting through the synapses
To bring forth the truth of the matter,
The heart matter.
Alone, a mind cold-calculates and overanalyzes,
Stemming a misinterpretation of fact.
Alone, a heart bleeds too heavily
And floods judgment with emotion.
Bound as one, balance and harmony emerge,
A unified message,
A unified purpose,
A unified truth.
BE BOLD AND BELIEVE
By Elizabeth Elin
The seeds of salvation take root in a quivering heart that dares to beat.
To be alive is to feel,
to feel the irresistible yearning of adrenaline that courses through veins,
bursts through walls of vulnerability, through
inertia, static stubbornly clinging to the status quo.
Hope is a person swimming upstream against
the current of oppression, surging and swelling against the tides of time.
Beauty is an angelic beam of light piercing the storm-clouds, penetrating the rainfall,
bearing the flutter of life to the cracks that split parched soil.
Imagination is the soft cry of a young girl,
As she sees a face like her own and calls it “Madam Vice President.”
Tears, never voluntary, the marinade of emotion stewed in time,
Reveal how unrest mixes with fatigue, discouragement with awe,
For humans are always paradoxical, and
when existing is resisting, the joys of everyday life are an active uprising
both personal and poignant.
The brush of an unsuspecting hand, the intensity of a whisper,
the laughter of children, the hug of a grandmother…
The future is foretold in conversations that spark memories,
in cries of anguish,
and though love remains more contagious than hate,
the struggles of a carved-out survival fight daily against the violence of privilege.
Stand back, watch the glint of sunlight, the gleam of hope that arises
in the glass ceiling as it shatters,
reflecting the steel in the eyes of all who fought and fight.
Only disruption fragments the normal, only change makes new possible,
reconstructing a dream brought into being through pain.
Small moments are beautiful, too,
the echoes of giant steps that both trudge and leap.
Representation is possibility saturated in the visions of real and unreal,
for when scars collide with stars, dreams of a future begin to flourish.
Listening to the unheard creates nourishment and nourishes creativity,
creativity that expresses what it is to bleed, to hunger, to thirst, to heal.
Daring is belief in the unrealized hopes of ancestors,
linked eternally by all who breathe,
by all who have felt the pain of love.
PHOTO 1: From left to right – Nicole Fratrich, Elizabeth Elin and Isabel Sicree
PHOTO 2: Isabel Sicree
PHOTO 3: Nicole Fratrich
PHOTO 4: Elizabeth Elin