Local LGBTQ+ Voices Shine in Annual Poetry Competition
The Live Out Proud Poetry Contest presented by Geisinger was originally launched in the summer of 2021 with the goal of amplifying LGBTQ+ voices in the Wyoming Valley. It returned this year with a base of interest and even more excitement to elevate those voices!
The purpose of the contest was to bring creative expression to life within the Greater Wyoming Valley LGBTQ+ community. We asked for unpublished poems that move us, make us laugh/cry, teach us something new, or a combination. By promoting the creative medium of poetry, our vision was for those who submitted to express themselves and how it pertains to “Live Out Proud” in their own poetic words.
First Place: Jodi Balas
Jodi Balas (she/her) was the first-place winner of the 2022 Live Out Proud Poetry Contest.
Jodi is a neurodiverse female residing in Wilkes-Barre, PA. She uses poetry as a means to understand her inner self along with helping to make sense of the outside world through an anthropogenic lens. Jodi likes to write through a lyrical free verse style with touches of confessionalism and musicality.
“I was always drawn more to writing as opposed to speaking. Being neurodiverse, I can sometimes have communication challenges which in hindsight, was probably, at least in part, the catalyst for expression via writing,” shared Jodi.
As the first-place winner of this poetry contest, Jodi shared that she was immediately brought to tears. She noted she takes a lot of pride in what she writes and more often than not, the content is derived from a place of deep reflection or healing.
“That’s the power poetry can possess – a space for beauty, pain, reflection and understanding that captures our overall human experience,” she explained. “Often, it’s what needs to be shared so that we can find bits and pieces of ourselves in others.”
Jodi believes that all people have valuable and unique experiences that are worthy of recognition. That’s the beauty of art itself – to provide a tool that embraces the unsung voices of our communities.
You can read Jodi’s winning poem below:
MY LOVER’S IN TEXAS
My lover’s in Texas –
Left with a white flag
and wet bones,
Said he was going for
a while – a while ago he
said he was going
to bring back monarchs
and bluebonnets –
the kind that never shift
direction once they’re planted.
Said he was going to
recreate the Alamo,
said he was going to
find a green horse.
It’s been a while since
he said he was going –
told me he’d be back
in a dream. I told him
he’s been by the Gulf a
hundred times or more
and still can’t concede
the rock from the sand;
the sea from the shore.
I found a picture of
us inside an old sweater;
connected the freckles on
his face that form like a
constellation after the
day blisters over.
So I counted them like I
count the years I’ve been
holding onto the tail end
of a kite. My lover’s in Texas –
found himself there tugging
on the seam of the sky.
Second Place: Caroline Hayduk
Caroline Hayduk is a queer poet, editor, and educator living in Scranton, PA. She has an MA and MFA from Wilkes University. She is deeply passionate about weird earrings and thrifted clothes. She also has quite the houseplant collection and a sixteen-year-old cat, Porkchop.
a pair of kitchen shears in front
of the medicine cabinet confirm
i am permanently a pivot point
i am a queer woman
who occasionally rattles at
this scared corner of the world being home
in saying i am this i really mean i am not that
that which binds men and women in the gridlock
of christmas cards on the fridge
I am lonely but in a way that divides itself
as men looked like enemy soldiers
crossing the banks of a frozen river
and women were not found
queer to mean weird as strange as
dying with a belly full of teeth
masquerading as bags of bones
the vultures were waiting to drop
like mothers pleading for their children’s souls
how a priest waved them off like
beads of sweat
i can’t approach a woman
and ask her to dance
maybe i won’t ever have fists on me
because i can link arms with a man
and look the part
maybe i will even love a man and
it will be easier unless he implies
there was ever choice in who
I want to taste—
or am i only the soft, empty belly
grinding over another woman—
like two blades to click together
& the bartender who says
they’re all doubles here, baby.
Third Place: Jess Meoni
A mover-and-shaker from Northeast Pennsylvania, Jess Meoni creates platforms and programs for communities by implementing her skills as a graphic designer, organizer, photographer, writer, and educator. She believes in the social responsibility of designing for the common good, often branding and facilitating public outlets like art markets, music festivals, open mic nights, film screenings, and other cultural experiences that unify people and foster creativity.
I remember looking at you and thinking… thinking…
You have impeccable charm,
something crossbred between
caffeine and a fire alarm.
Inflatable, insatiable, so goddamn intangible.
But there we were, fixated in time
like mechanical cannibals
static on an assembly line.
Trying to gather some resemblance of character,
an endless reflection where I play the narrator.
But our thoughts eat us alive,
multiply until we identify
with vacant streets and cyanide.
Too many fractured pieces,
too many unadhered adhesives.
Our attempts are meager,
our responses are neither
immune to apathy, incapacity
or the gravity of leaders.
It’s a story rephrased, exchanged
through channels and veins
of convoluted traffic lanes.
It’s all pretend and reprimand,
grand illusions of sentiment.
The kind of thing that makes you regret.
The kind of thing that makes you question
every word, every letter, every breath.
More about the Live Out Proud Poetry Contest:
The idea for the poetry contest came from local community member and poet, Alyssa Duffy.
“Poetry has been an outlet of mine throughout my life. An art form which to me lacks community representation,” Alyssa explained. “I was writing a lot of poetry, especially during quarantine. I wanted to incorporate poetry in the community somehow, someway. As a gay woman, I researched and contacted the Rainbow Alliance. I knew how much creativity we have in the LGBTQ community–especially in families or communities who don’t accept us.”
The contest was brought to life within the valley in partnership by Rainbow Alliance, NEPA Pride Project, and NEPA Creative.
The NEPA Pride Project is an organization focused on celebrating, educating and demonstrating artistic experience within our youth, LGBT and all underrepresented communities in Northeastern Pennsylvania. “Alongside our partner organizations NEPA Creative and the Rainbow Alliance, it was important to collaboratively strengthen artistic expression within the community,” explained Justin Correll, NEPA Pride Project Co-Founder.
NEPA Creative is committed to supporting local creatives, fostering creativity, and connecting opportunity, so when the ask to get involved as a partner for the inaugural Live Out Loud Poetry Contest was presented it was a resounding yes from co-founder Holly K. Pilcavage.
In addition to the partners, there were five judges that participated in a blind judging selection: Samantha Bucher (she/her), Jennifer Judge Yonkoski (she/her), Dawn Leas (she/her), Trish Dicket-Nieves (she/her), and David Pearson (he/his). Once the judges’ work was done, they provided the Live Out Proud Contest committee with the results. For this year’s contest, there were top 3 prize winners, each receiving recognition across digital and traditional media platforms as well as monetary prizes.