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Out of the ordinary



Sometimes the best poems and stories aren’t written. When I think about my favorites lines, they are comments culled from random conversations. I remember, from years ago, my best friend relating how an unidentified sharp object pierced the taut skin of a plum at the bottom of her backpack. I recall a conversation with a stranger who lovingly described his girlfriend’s sloping nose, admiring that it followed the curve of her cheek. And I still believe in the genius of a classmate who pontificated on the sound of a cowbell.

In judging this year’s fiction contest, it was only after reading all the submissions that I realized what I instinctively prize most in creative writing: authors who build something from nothing. Drawn to fiction and poetry that takes an ordinary idea, a throwaway object or a mundane situation (the kind you forget about after a night’s sleep), I voted for writers who exposed beauty and awed me, like Donald Levin’s grand-prize-winning poem, Sestina: The Cleaners, and Weaving, a poem by Stephanie Rutherford that received an honorable mention. But there are also traces of that regard for small things in works that didn’t receive awards. In one short story, the author wrote: “She sobbed. Snot hung from her flaring nostrils like little, yellow balloons.” In another, the depressed main character ascertains that soup gives her life meaning.

This year’s judges are published authors. Lynn Crawford’s fourth book, Fortification Resort, is a compilation of reflections on Detroit art; Peter Markus’ latest book, The Singing Fish, is made up of naive interwoven tales; and painter, puppeteer and literary surrealist Maurice Greenia Jr., aka Maugré, whose otherworldly illustrations provide their own narrative in these pages, is celebrating his 20th anniversary as self-publisher of The Poetic Express. We also enlisted Kelli Kavanaugh, editor of local literary journal The Furnace, and Metro Times book reviewer Katherine Cho, an insatiable reader, as well as MT intern Yukari Rymar, culture queen Sarah Klein and staff writer Nancy Kaffer.

Although flash fiction winner Tom Driver had a good reason to get to Walloon Lake for the annual writers retreat — “I hear it’s good fishin’” — and he even tried bribing judges with a care package of soft and flaky smoked catfish, the prize of an expense-free spot at the retreat, donated graciously by Springfed Arts, goes to Maria Maniaci for her short fiction entry Diecisiete. The seventh annual Walloon Writers Retreat (Sept. 22-25) includes workshops, readings and panel discussions with a staff of authors, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Judith Guest, Suzy Farbman and Thomas Lux among them. (See for more information.)

Currently working toward her master’s degree in creative writing at Wayne State University, Maniaci was chosen as the recipient because her story, set in Havana and Miami, is related with vivid soulfulness. It was astounding to later discover that she has never even visited Cuba; the idea came from a seminar paper she recently wrote on homosexuality in Cuban literature. “In one of the texts there was an interview with an expatriate now living in Miami. There was this one throwaway line about a friend of his that really stuck with me, and the rest of the story rose up around that.” Just like that, from one remark, she monograms the spirit of a land and its people.

Diecisiete Grand Prize, Fiction
A spider’s web, some freckles and bright yellow hair Runner-up, Fiction

Made in China Grand Prize, Flash Fiction
Choirs of Angels Runner-up, Flash Fiction
Curator Runner-up, Flash Fiction

Sestina: The Cleaners Grand Prize, Poetry
Lake Ice in the River Runner-up, Poetry
Lamp Abandoned Runner Up, Poetry
Ode to Summer Morning (after Neruda) Runner-up, Poetry
Weaving Honorable Mention, Poetry

The answer Grand Prize, McOndo

Rebecca Mazzei is the arts editor for Metro Times. Send comments to

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