by Elyse Kaner
A poem meshing the experience of an aging grandmother with last year’s Japanese tsunami has captured first place in a poetry-writing contest.
Paige Riehl, a writing teacher at Anoka-Ramsey Community College for 10 years, is the first-place winner of a national poetry contest sponsored by Literal Latte, a New York-based online literary magazine.
Riehl, who resides in St. Paul, wrote “Edie Watches the Tsunami from her Bed at Life Care Rehabilitation Center in Las Vegas, March 2011,” which captured a top honor and the winning prize of $1,000.
“It’s been exciting and I’m thrilled my poetry is out there and that people can read it,” Riehl said in an interview.
This is the first time Riehl has won such a contest and received a monetary award for her work.
She wrote the poem last year when she was visiting her 93-year-old grandmother, Edie, in Las Vegas. Edie had suffered a series of strokes and at the time was in a health care center. At the same time, the tsunami rocked Japan.
Riehl’s grandmother was struggling with health issues and trying to follow the disaster on TV. Blurred vision from the stroke hindered her attempts.
Riehl’s observations cleverly combined her grandma’s struggles and perspective on the unfolding tragedy to come up with what turned out to be a winning poem.
Writing the poem evoked a sense of sadness in Riehl, sadness of how we all suffer tragedies of some sort, she said.
Among other accolades, Riehl was named semi-finalist for the 2011 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry sponsored by Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry. Last year, she attained a similar honor in the 2011 River Styx International Poetry Contest. She was a finalist for the 2011 Loft Mentor Series in Poetry held by Minneapolis’ Loft Literary Center. She is published in a variety of print and online publications. One of her poems is coming out in the next issue of South Dakota Review.
Riehl has been writing poetry since she was 12 years old. But she became serious about it while in college. She credits her success to good teachers, particularly teacher and poet Mark Vinz, her instructor at what was then called Moorhead State University (now Minnesota State University, Moorhead) back in the late 1980s when she attended.
“He was an excellent teacher that sparked my interest in poetry and encouraged me to continue,” Riehl said.
Aside from her love affair with words, for Riehl, the best part of writing poetry is the process. She enjoys revising, creating similes and metaphors, the entire process.
And there’s that feeling of satisfaction when someone is touched by a piece, she said.
For Riehl, the challenging part of writing poems is finding time for it. She is a wife, mother and faculty member at ARCC and a part-time graduate student.
Riehl holds a bachelor’s degree in English from MSU, Moorehead, and a master’s degree in English from North Dakota State University, Fargo. Currently, she is working on a master’s of fine arts degree in creative writing from Hamline University in St. Paul.
Ultimately, Riehl would like to have a collection of her poetry published.
She recalls a common saying she has often heard among poets: There’s no money in poetry.
“This was a thrill to not only win first place, but to get a monetary award as well,” she said.
Riehl has not yet decided what to do with the prize money. Most likely, it will go back into paying for her continuing education, she said.
Elyse Kaner is at email@example.com