In 2021, Howard County Poetry and Literature Society launched the Ellen Conroy Kennedy Poetry Prize in honor of its founding member, Ellen Conroy Kennedy. The contest received more than 100 submissions in its inaugural year, and the selection committee chose Liz Holland’s poem “Lifeboy Swept Away” as the second place winner. The committee cited the poem’s “intensely memorable images, elegiac tone, and vivid language that lingers with you… especially the ending: ‘The small waves/ashamed of what they hold, fold at my feet./Wading deeper, I cup my hands and take one/salted sip, carrying you as far away as you’ll go.’”
HoCoPoLitSo: Tell us about your poem “Lifeboy Swept Away.” How did it come about? What sparked or inspired it?
LH: This poem was written on the tenth anniversary of losing my friend to suicide. We grew up on the same street, celebrated holidays together (our families still do), and had much in common. He had a zest for life that I have yet to find in anyone else, though struggled desperately with his mental health. I sat down to write about something completely different and this poem pushed its way out. Travis has a way of showing up like that. I see him when I’m driving on the highway, in the local convenience store, and especially in proximity to the Chesapeake Bay. I welcome his energy when it floats in and found this piece to be a lovely way to honor him after a decade of absence.
HoCoPoLitSo: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
LH: I must have been around five when my mom realized my need for communication. I had such a desire to understand and to be understood. I asked a ton of questions (much to the annoyance of my mom who had four other kids to care for!) and overanalyzed everything with her throughout my teenage years. Language served a languishing purpose as I couldn’t quite express my internal world with the words available to me. I realized a certain power in language when I took my first poetry class in undergrad. I can’t tell you who I read or what my professor’s name was, but something new became available to me through writing – it truly saved my life while I, too, struggled with mental health in my twenties.
HoCoPoLitSo: As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
LH: I write a lot about the natural world (thank you Mary Oliver) and at this moment would say my avatar could be a ranunculus or peony on fire. Fire is ever present in my work as well, perhaps as a nod to me being a Leo, or from the decades of Catholic ceremony.
HoCoPoLitSo: Tell us about a writer or a book that you return to over and over for inspiration.
LH: As I’ve already mentioned, Mary Oliver’s Devotions stays on my coffee table, along with the likes of Ada Limon, Toi Derricotte, Ross Gay, Li-Young Lee, Marie Howe, and Steven Leyva. It is wildly evident as I read these works and write simultaneously, my poems move in emulation of each poet. I stay inspired by these incredible poets and return often to their books.
HoCoPoLitSo: What are you working on next and where can we find you?
LH: I am currently finalizing my first chapbook as my thesis in the MFA program at University of Baltimore. Our program culminates in a final book that is due out in May of 2022. I will be making it available on my IG and Twitter @cottonswords (same handle). I hope to continue the momentum of this publication into a full book in late 2022/2023. Thank you for publishing my work and amplifying the creative arts.
Liz Holland is an MFA candidate at the University of Baltimore and 2021 nominee for ‘Best of the Net’. Her work can be found in Remington Review, Broadkill Review, Little Patuxent Review, and several other literary journals. She lives in Baltimore with her fur-son Brax.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 to reach a trained counselor at the Crisis Text Line.