Home » Poetry Prize » Meet Chrissy Stegman — 2022 Second Place Winner of the Ellen Conroy Kennedy Poetry Contest

Meet Chrissy Stegman — 2022 Second Place Winner of the Ellen Conroy Kennedy Poetry Contest

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In 2021, Howard County Poetry and Literature Society launched the Ellen Conroy Kennedy Poetry Prize in honor of its founding member, Ellen Conroy Kennedy. Now in its second year, contest judges evaluated many submissions from poets in ten states and three countries for mechanics and technique, clarity, style/music for our contemporary age, imagery/sensory power, and emotional resonance. They noted in “Blue Irises” the creative use of form, the original approach to this poignant subject, the resonant voice of the speaker, and the powerful tension of the poem’s arc.

Tell us about your poem “Blue Irises” How did it come about? What sparked or inspired it?

Chrissy Stegman, second prize winner in the 2022 Ellen Conroy Kennedy Poetry Contest

I received my annual postcard in the mail from GBMC hospital, asking for donations to the NICU. It reminded me.

My youngest son was born early and via emergency c-section. When he arrived, he was whisked away to the NICU.

The poem came from this experience and from the despair I felt at being in the NICU to nurse him or see him whenever they allowed me but also, the other babies sometimes didn’t survive. It was a devastating juxtaposition, living in that space of life and death. It stayed with me.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

That’s a difficult question for me to answer. I suppose it would be the hours I spent in various libraries as a child. Reading saved me so many times, supported me, gave me strength. The power was evident. Language can do that — it reminds me of a passage from The Bow and the Lyre (Octavio Paz): Man is a being who has created himself in creating a language. By means of the word, man is a metaphor of himself. 

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

My mascot would be pure crystalline silence. I have four school-aged kids in the home (one adult child out in the world) and it’s challenging to find the space and quiet to write and work things out. If not silence, then all of Rocky Mount and Ferrum, VA and the blackberry brambles there, the train tracks, and the cemetery. The Blue Ridge mountains? Take me home. Country roads.

Tell us about a writer or a book that you return to over and over for inspiration.

It’s always Elizabeth Bishop, Rilke, Harryette Mullen, Camus, Anne Carson, Theodore Roethke, Mark Strand, Larkin … I mean, it’s impossible to pick only one writer or book. The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli is gorgeous. 

What are you working on next and where can we find you?

Currently, I’m taking an advanced masterclass at the 92NY Unterberg Poetry Center, New York. I’m also working on a book of poems that offers an interactive quality for the reader and finishing up my first chapbook. I have two poems coming out in March (Gone Lawn) and May (Blue Heron Review) so 2023 is off to a great start.

I can be found on IG: thegoosefaerie and Twitter: @pimpledrose 

Hear poet Chrissy Stegman read “Blue Irises”

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