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Meet Liz Holland – second place winner of the Ellen Conroy Kennedy Poetry Prize 2021

Liz Holland reads “Lifeboy Swept Away”

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. 

Congratulations, Liz!

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.

Meet Arhm Choi Wild – the winner of Ellen Conroy Kennedy Poetry Prize 2021

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 Arhm Choi Wild’s poem “Rummage” as the first place winner. The committee cited the poem’s “strong, poignant narrative voice telling a powerful story of a parent/child relationship that reveals what we often miss or misunderstand.” Arhm’s poem is published in the 2022 Winter issue of The Little Patuxent Review.

Here is Arhm reading “Rummage” for HoCoPoLitSo:

We wanted to learn more about Arhm, so we asked them a few of our favorite questions.

HoCoPoLitSo: Tell us about your poem “Rummage.” How did it come about? What sparked or inspired it?

ACW: I’ve been trying to write this poem for a long time but kept running into the irony of trying to magnify the limits of language while depending on it to convey the insatiable desire I have for connection with my mother tongue and those who reside in its geography. Over the years, I have collected the mis-translations between my mother and I, some hilarious, others devastating. It wasn’t until I tried bringing in synesthesia and my decades of not having a sense of smell that something clicked about how to convey the heartbreak of knowing my mother is simplifying her thoughts so I can understand them in Korean, and that I was doing the same in English. What is the sum total of loss when you put all of these almost translations, vague translations, ghost translations together? It is so revealing what words  you turn to when you are angry or lonely, and I hoped this poem to speak to what it feels like to not share the same compass points of language with someone I have tried my whole life to understand more deeply. 

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

ACW: Though I was born in the States, we moved to Korea shortly afterwards, making Korean my first language. When we returned 5 years later, I remember very clearly practicing my introduction speech with my dad before the first day of school. We practiced over and over how to say where I was from, what my hobbies were, the members of my family. I remember it feeling like a suit I was sliding into while not recognizing the fabric, the way the cuffs folded, the shade of blue. I think the speech convinced my classmates and teachers that I was more fluent in English than I actually was, and I spent much of the following year choosing between replies of “yes” and “no,” fervently hoping the 50/50 chance wouldn’t reveal my inadequacies. I share this memory to talk about how it felt to finally speak English, the immense relief of being able to answer the teacher’s questions, of making an argument in English, of being a self who had more depth than “yes” and “no”. It both terrifies and exhilarates me that language can be both an ironclad door and also an amorphous key, opening to experiences I didn’t even know I was missing. 

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

ACW: I have always loved elephants and collected tiny figurines of them over the years. As a writer, I would love to borrow some of their long term memory and their ability to remember a vast variety of experiences. For me, traumatic experiences hold the most weight in my memory orbits, and sometimes I wish I had just as clear memories of ecstatic moments, of perfect moments. I also love how fiercely family-based elephants are, both biological fam and chosen fam. Being part of writing communities, especially in these last two years of the pandemic, has been life-saving on so many levels. Investing in and building community feels like an integral part of my writing practice, and I am extremely grateful for Kundiman, for Emotional Historians, and the various classes and workshops I’ve had a chance to work with. 

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

ACW: An impossible question to just pick one! My younger, closeted self would have been overwhelmed and overjoyed to know that in my future I would have the immense fortune to know and read so many queer poets of color. People who have been particularly influential in the ways that they’ve liberated my sense of possibility and what it looks like to engage in work that is by and for our communities are Ocean Vuong, Natalie Diaz, Nikky Finney, and Marwa Halal. 

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

ACW: I’m working on a 2nd poetry manuscript that has been orbiting around my father’s death in 2020, my divorce, and finally coming out as transgender and beginning to transition. Sometimes I wonder what will be the thread that ties all of these subjects together. Today that thread is a look at what it means to start over and again, how grief brings out truth even if its unbearable, how much life can change in unexpected ways when one claims themself.  I can be found at arhmchoiwild.com and @arhmcwild on Instagram, and am sending out signed copies of my first book, “Cut to Bloom,” for anyone who is interested! 

Congratulations, Arhm! Thank you for sharing your poetry with HoCoPoLitSo and the world!

author photo by Sarah Phillips

Arhm Choi Wild is the author of CUT TO BLOOM, the winner of the 2019 Write Bloody Prize. Arhm received a MFA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College and their work appears or is forthcoming in Barrow Street, The Massachusetts Review, Pleiades, Split this Rock, Blackbird, and others. They were shortlisted for the Poetry International Prize and have received fellowships from Kundiman, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. They work as the Director of the Progressive Teaching Institute and Diversity Coordinator at a school in New York City. For more information, visit arhmchoiwild.com.

The First Annual Ellen Conroy Kennedy Poetry Prize.

Deadline extended, prizes, publication.

The new annual Ellen Conroy Kennedy Poetry Prize honors our dear co-founder (1932-2020) and supports HoCoPoLitSo’s live literary programs. 

The winning poet will be awarded a cash prize of $500, provided by the Friends of HoCoPoLitSo.  The winning poem will be published in The Little Patuxent Review and HoCoPoLitSo’s website.  Additionally, the winning poet will be celebrated with a press release, on social media, in a blog interview, and in the annual report.  A second prize winner will also be selected and awarded $100.

Eligibility: We welcome submissions from poets all ages and in all styles, including experimental, traditional, and short narrative poems. Each poet may submit one or more previously unpublished, original poems to total no more than 60 lines or three pages. HoCoPoLitSo-appointed judges will consider each poem separately and without identifying author information to select one winning poem of exceptional quality. HoCoPoLitSo Board Members and staff are not eligible to submit.

Evaluation: Each poem will be judged separately and read anonymously. 

Reading Fee: $10 

Submission Deadline: October 15, 2021  [EXTENDED]

The winner will be notified by November 15, 2021.

Click here to submit your work.

HoCoPoLitSo Announces Inaugural Ellen Conroy Kennedy Poetry Prize

HoCoPoLitSo has created a poetry prize in honor of co-founder Ellen Conroy Kennedy (1932-2020). The winner’s poem will be  published on HoCoPoLitSo’s website and the winning poet celebrated with a press release, on social media, in a blog interview, and featured in our annual report. 

We welcome submissions from poets of all ages and in all styles, including experimental, traditional, and short narrative poems. Each poet may submit one to three previously unpublished, original poems to total no more than 60 lines or three pages. HoCoPoLitSo-appointed judges will consider each poem separately and without identifying author information to select one winning poem of exceptional quality.

Entries must be submitted September 30, 2021. Each poem will be judged separately and read anonymously. The reading fee is $10. The winner will be notified by November 15, 2021. HoCoPoLitSo Board Members and staff are not eligible. Click here for the submission link.

Kennedy, a National Book Award finalist, co-founded the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society in 1974 and served as chief executive officer until 2005, bringing literary luminaries including Saul Bellow, Edward Albee, Isaac Bashevis Singer, W.S. Merwin, Henry Taylor, Lucille Clifton, Amiri Baraka, Gwendolyn Brooks, Stanley Kunitz, Derek Walcott, Allen Ginsberg and more to Howard County.

“Ellen’s brilliant, discerning love of literature, especially contemporary poetry, inspired the creation of this annual contest in her name. She delighted in nurturing and showcasing new voices who can move, inform, and connect our community through verse,” says Tara Hart, HoCoPoLitSo Co-Chair.

Proceeds will support HoCoPoLitSo’s live literary programs. HoCoPoLitSo’s mission is to cultivate appreciation for contemporary poetry and literature, to celebrate a culturally diverse literary heritage and to broaden exposure to the literary arts. The Writing Life, HoCoPoLitSo’s award winning writer to writer interview show, available on YouTube, has been viewed worldwide over 666,000 times. HoCoPoLitSo is supported in part by the Howard County Arts Council through a grant from Howard County Government, the Community Foundation of Howard County, the Maryland State Arts Council, the Columbia Film Society, Dr. Lillian Bauder, and individual donors.

Click here to SUBMIT YOUR WORK.

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