Good job. Now, don’t ever do that again!
While waiting in line to check out of the St. Elmo, I noticed a hand-lettered sign on the counter that read– Annual Poetry Contest. I grabbed one. As I pushed my suitcase forward with my foot, I quickly scribbled my name and address on the form. I ripped a poem out of my binder, stuffed it along with the form into an envelope and gave it to the person at the desk when I checked out.
That week at Chautauqua was in July 1988.
In September of that same year I was delighted and surprised to receive a note in the mail postmarked, Chautauqua. I had won first place in the Poetry Contest. The envelope included a check for $25. As I said, I was delighted.
There was a second note along with the congratulatory one. A somewhat scolding note and one I treasure to this day:
Dear Miss Tryon,
Congratulations again on winning the First Prize in the Annual Poetry Contest. I am writing to you today because I thought you might like to have the comments made on your entry by one of the judges.
Actually I should not have accepted your poem as an entry because the rules specify that only SHORT poems are acceptable. It was accepted, however, and did win an award.
In other years the judges themselves have refused to consider any poems more than one page long. Although, rarely, they have considered a two-pager.
At any rate just thought you like to see the comment made by one judge who thought it might be helpful in your future writing . . . which we look forward to your doing.
I had received a partial grant from the Highlights Foundation in 1988 to attend a writing week at Chautauqua. Among the speakers were what most attendees generically referred to as “The big New York City editors”; there were three of them. The following year, 1989, I would sign a contract for my first book with the man who would become my editor for the next twelve years and seventeen books, Jon Lanman. Jon was one of the three editors I had heard speak at Chautauqua. It is not possible to over state the importance of that week of inspiration and creative work.
And, the ounce of caution that was offered along with the best wishes for my “future writing” from the Chautauqua Poetry Contest committee.