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Graduate Student Wins Beall Poetry Prizes

Aug. 26, 2013

A.E. Stallings is a critically-acclaimed author and recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship, commonly known as the Genius Grant. She is also one of the world's leading poets, a guest of honor at numerous poetry festivals, and apparently a big fan of Baylor poetry.

Beall Russell

Stallings visited Baylor in 2012 as part of the Beall Poetry Festival sponsored by Baylor's English department every year.

"There is no living American poet that [the festival] hasn't had," says Dr. Luke Ferretter, Beall festival chair. "It is nationally significant."

In addition to the opportunity to hear original works read by their authors and the chance to meet the top critics in their fields, Baylor students have the opportunity to participate in writing contests in fiction and poetry. Each year, the department asks a former Beall poet to judge the contest, and this year the judge was Stallings.

"The contests are open to any student, undergraduate or graduate, and a student can submit one poem or story" Dr. Ferretter says. "We give three fiction prizes and five poetry prizes."

This year, graduate student Nathan Roberts won two prizes: the Academy of American Poetry Prize and the Virginia Beall Ball Prize. Both were for the same poem, The Ventriloquist.

"I really have Dr. William Virgil Davis to thank for my poem," Nathan Roberts says. "I've always been drawn to short fiction, and he recommended I look into American prose poetry."

Roberts found himself drawn to Russell Edson's work because of its simple language and powerful images. These aspects became inspiration for Roberts' poem.

"It really started with a desire to shock the audience," Roberts says. "The image of one person controlling another became vital to the piece. I needed to find a relationship that mirrored the relationship between a ventriloquist and her dummy. After a few versions, I landed on a teacher/student relationship."

Roberts admits he never even expected to earn any recognition for his poem, since he felt his poem to be more prose than form. However, Stallings felt differently.

"'The Ventriloquist' seems mature and masterful, muscular and without ornament," Stallings says.

Stallings concluded by calling Roberts' poem "excellent work," a high praise from such a figure in poetry.

"I'm flattered by what Stallings said, floored really," Roberts says. "And of course, that makes me want to keep writing."

After winning two of the highest prizes, Roberts has nothing but praise for the festival.

"I think having the venue to submit work is a great thing," Roberts says. "Baylor marches three great poets across the stage every year - it's amazing. It's the beginning of a wonderful week for poetry."

This year will mark the 20th anniversary of the festival. Announcements regarding this year's line-up will come later this fall.

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