It was a competition he didn’t enter until the last moment and promptly forgot about once he had.
So, when C.T. Salazar was notified by email that his poem was selected as one of the eight best in a national poetry competition, his immediate reaction was a simple, natural one.
“I was excited,” he said. “I wish there was a more poetic term to describe my reaction, but that was it.”
Salazar, 24, is in his second year as a student in the Mississippi University of Women master’s of fine arts in creative writing program.
His poem, “Lover the Lord Has Left Us,” was chosen for distinction from among student poets from throughout the nation in the Association of Writers and Writer’s Programs’ Intro Journal Project. The competition showcases new work by students enrolled in AWP member programs.
“I feel really lucky,” Salazar said. “I know there were far more than eight poems that were worthy of this, so to be among those eight is really far more than I would have ever expected.”
Salazar is attending The W on a part-time basis, juggling his class time with his duties as children’s coordinator at the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library. He hopes to pursue a Ph.D. upon finishing the MFA program, but he doesn’t have any precise timetable.
“It may take a while, but that’s OK,” he said. “I love my job at the library, working with kids, so I’m in a good spot.”
While Salazar said he was surprised to win national acclaim for his poetry, Kendall Dunkelberg, the director of creative writing at The W, said the award speaks to Salazar’s skills.
“He is a serious poet,” Dunkelberg said. “Clearly, his poems compare favorably to those from the top creative writing programs in the country. We are very proud of C.T.”
His winning poem tells the story of the crew of a ship that has struck and killed a baby whale, exploring each crew member’s reaction to the event. Salazar said he drew on his experience from a trip to Maine where he spent time on a sailboat a few years ago.
Salazar said he’s always loved poetry and began writing poems as a high school student.
“It was a slow process,” he said. “I wrote some bad poems, laughably bad, but I liked it and wanted to keep doing it.”
It wasn’t until he received a full scholarship to pursue his master’s degree that Salazar allowed himself to acknowledge that his work had merit.
“I think, really, that was my first indication that my poetry was more than just something I enjoyed,” he said. “I still love writing and it’s always a boost to get recognition.”
Salazar’s winning poem will be published in The Tampa Review later this year.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.
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