When people speak of “entertainment value” they are usually talking about what the audience gets from being entertained. This is about the other thing.
Last semester a guy in my Writing For Mass Media class named Matt told everyone about the Tulsa Review and that they publish student and faculty stuff and that they would be having a spring contest. I thought maybe I’d just send something in and see if it would make the cut for publication. Matt encouraged me to enter the contest, as they also considered the contest entries for publication as well, and you never know…
As it turned out, my little poem was awarded first place. When they sent the award email, I read it three times before it sank in. They didn’t say which one won, (I’d sent two) and I half-believed there would be a follow up email saying, “Oops, the last email was meant to go to so-and-so.” So I shared my teary-eyed news with my husband and Facebook friends (And newsletter subscribers…hint, hint…) and waited for the other shoe to drop. No email came, so I wrote back inquiring as to which poem won. They told me it was “Carroll After Dark”, a work I’d sent in on a whim, and asked if I could attend the release party to do a reading. I figured it would be the other one, which I won’t name here, as it is now under submission elsewhere. Wiping the gratitude off of my cheeks again, I replied that I would be happy to do the reading. The release party was everything a budding writer could have hoped for. Some of my professors were there, and classmates new and not-as-new. Friends all.
Nervous even after a great practice reading in class, I made it through without too many big fumbles and by the time the whole party was over I was walking on air, and crying as I left. These were faces I would likely only see in passing for the rest of my life. If I was lucky. I was going to miss the talented, kind, and generous people I’d been surrounded by for the last three years.
Once home, my husband told me he was proud of me, and I bounced like a schoolkid. I doffed the dress clothes, slipped into my comfies and sat down at the computer. The effort had been worth it. It was the first time I’d ever won first place at anything I’d done with my brain. What’s more they’d genuinely liked something I wrote! They were entertained! Even now, I sit and shake my head, half-disbelieving. Hell, you’d think I’d won the Pulitzer.
So that was the charge they all talked about! That was the high.
It wasn’t so much the winning. It wasn’t the prize (I really hadn’t remembered there would be one). It was watching their faces as I read. All those faces got it! They laughed. They enjoyed it. Irreplaceable. Priceless. That meant more than anything. I may not always win, and I may never place again. But it doesn’t matter as long as someone enjoys reading or hearing the work.
I know it won’t be everyone. It won’t be all the time. May never be again. but I will always have the memory of that perfect day just before the first of May, when my readers and listeners were actually entertained, and I got to see it.
If you’d like to read “Carroll After Dark”, here is the link to the poem on the Tulsa Review website. Go check them out, there are a TON of great poems, stories and works of art–all by Tulsa Community College students and faculty.
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