Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thoughts on Autumn and the Contest Themes

As Autumn sweeps in and turns the trees into flaming colors, a number of things come to mind. Food, for example: cider and pumpkin pie and gingerbread and hot cocoa and heaps of other yumminess. :) But did you ever stop to think about the fact that the trees are really dying? It's not a morbid thought, it's simply the truth. Great beauty, as we see at this time of year, can arise from death. Yes, death can bring sadness, but it also brings transformation, and transformation brings hope.

Autumn also signals the arrival of harvest. While harvest is not so significant to many of us in this century, we can still enjoy it by doing things like picking apples. (Not far from Patrick Henry, there's an apple orchard whose apples are fantastically good.) But harvest also has a spiritual component. I'm reminded of the lines from Aaron Keyes' popular hymn My Soul Finds Rest, which is based on Psalm 62: "Though riches come and riches go/Don't set your heart upon them/The fields of hope in which I sow/Are harvested in heaven." This theme, that of sowing on earth and reaping in heaven, can be traced through much of the New Testament, particularly the epistles of Paul. Consider these verses from 1 Corinthians 15: "So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." 

Thence (at least in part) come the themes for this year's contest. The second division theme, finding beauty in brokenness; or, life through death, stems both from Scripture and from the themes of T.S. Eliot's poem The Wasteland, the major component of which is imagery of the Resurrection and of death leading to new life. Though a somewhat disturbing image, the lines at the end of the first section point directly to this theme: "That corpse you planted last year in your garden/Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?/Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?" His use of the corpse metaphor continues throughout the poem. The first division theme, reaping the reward; or, the harvest, relate both to the current season and to Scripture. For inspiration on either of these themes, you might get a good concordance of the Bible and research reward, death, harvest, etc. The Bible, as the greatest book of all time, can be the source of much inspiration.

So happy writing, fellow ink-spillers! Look for more to come here as the contest progresses. (And if you happen to read this before the announcement is posted on the PHC website, be assured: the official guidelines will posted there.)


Introducing our 2012-2013 Contest Coordinator

Our minds have been working feverishly and our pens have been scribbling busily. We've consumed much coffee and tea in our efforts to bring together the themes for next year's contest. Rest assured, o writers: you are not forgotten!

Since it's the start of a new contest, it's also time to introduce you to our new contest coordinator, Hannah Walker. Hannah is a junior studying Literature at Patrick Henry College.

When did you start writing?

I've been interested in the concept of writing since I was around eight years old. Notice I said concept; I'm making a distinction here between actually writing and merely being fascinated by the idea of writing. When I was younger I kept notebooks full of bits of writing and ideas and writing "exercises" which I would give myself. Needless to say none of this was very productive, although it did make me write some every day. I think I have around fifteen or sixteen of these notebooks now. I also began several novels, the ideas of which were not very good at all, and none of which I finished. I also wrote stories for a creative writing class I took in private school; this also spurred me to write a number of short stories.

Then, I think when I was about seventeen or eighteen, I developed a strong interest in poetry. I read numerous books on writing poetry, researched all different sorts of forms, studied meter and rhyme, and entered online contests, quite I few of which I won. (These contests, I must admit, were on a poetry website which, now that I've gained more experience, I can see was not a particularly high-caliber place. Still, it was rather encouraging to have people read my work there.) When I began to take classes at PHC, I entered various poems in our literary journal Cuttlefish. As a sophomore, I also helped edit the Poetry section of this journal, and am now one of two official editors for the genre.

Since coming to Patrick Henry College my vision of writing has matured considerably. While I am certainly still growing as a writer I now have a clearer knowledge of what I write best, what I want to write in the future, and where God might be leading me through writing.

What are your favorite fiction books? Favorite books on writing?

Oh dear, favorite fiction books... well, I have a great love of children's fiction, which is also the genre in which I hope to write the most. One of my favorite authors is Edith Nesbit, who wrote Five Children and It, The Magic City, The Railway Children, and many others. Another of my favorite authors falls on the extreme opposite end from Nesbit: Gary Schmidt, who wrote The Wednesday Wars, Okay for Now, and Straw into Gold (which is one of my very favorite books in the world). C.S. Lewis is another of my literary heroes, as is J.R.R. Tolkien.

As far as books on writing, I actually have not read many, apart from books on poetry. It might seem odd, but I don't really recommend reading books on the craft of poetry until you've written a considerable amount. In general poetry won't be good unless it comes from your own observations, whether they're about a tremendous subject like death, or simply about the way a spiderweb looks covered in dew. Books that tell you how to write poetry can often force poetry from you, rather than coax it out gently. I do recommend, however, reading encyclopedias of poetic forms. I read many such books, and discovered many obscure forms of poetry which turned out to be wonderful to write. For writing in general I recommend Francine Prose' Reading like a Writer.

What's one piece of advice you would give young writers?

Hmmm. I would probably advise them to write what they love. When you write what you think others want to hear you will find yourself dissatisfied. When you write what you love your audience will be able to tell the difference. Recently I had an assignment to write a short story. At first, my inclination was to write what I thought the professor wanted to hear. In the end, I wrote what I loved, and it turned out far better than I expected, and also showed me where my skill lies. Also, do a lot of people-watching, and write down what you see. Notice how people walk, what their eyes are like, how they hold their hands. Besides finding many ideas for stories, you will also find them fascinating in themselves.

As I hand over the reins, I'm excited that you all have the chance to hear Hannah's insights as she takes leadership of A Call to Pens.

Keep writing!


Alicia Constant
2011-12 Call to Pens Contest Coordinator.