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In the Quarantined Room: Local COVID Poetry Contest Winners Talk about the Process


It is often said that out of great pain comes great art.

Putting that idea to the test, the board of the Laura Riding Jackson Foundation, a non-profit writers’ organization, decided to hold a poetry contest. The subject: COVID-19.

SS: We had an incredible response.

This is Sean Sexton. He is the Poet Laureate for Indian River County and grandson of early area Treasure Coast pioneer Waldo Sexton.

SS: We had people from Kenya, and we had people from the British Isles send poems.

Out of the hundreds of entries, the board selected 5 local and 6 out-of-area winners.

Credit Mark Hinkley
Mark Hinkley

MH: This is Mark Hinkley

Hinkley took the local grand prize for his poem MONARCHS. A retired businessman, he only started writing fairly recently.

MH: Yeah, it surprised me. (laughter) I’ve never won anything in my life! Never considered myself to be a writer or a poet but I have written some thanks to involvement in the Laura Riding Jackson Center.

His poem was inspired by experiences visiting several family members in nursing homes. One passed this Easter.

MH: There was a series of goodbyes done through plate glass in a Connecticut nursing home which I thought was one of the stranger, sadder things. Questions about mortality and meaning and memory sort of converge whether you want them to or not when you go into these places. Each one of these people has a past in some cases a complex grand kind past.

He reads from his poem:

MH: Each was a monarch of something:
A family, a business, a platoon - ...

Does the salve of forgetting
dull the pain of remembering, or
does the mind just wander off
to places the body yearns to go?

Next we speak to…

Credit Cherie Clark
Cherie Clark

CC: My name is Cherie Clark. My background is in words. I live in language. The world comes into focus for me through language. So this poem to me was therapeutic also for me to help me put all of my feelings into words.

Her poem is called IN THE VALLEY OF APRIL.

CC: When we were all just beginning to realize what we were in for… I think I felt particularly saddened by the awful, smaller losses. And now, the simple enjoyment of just living our days, and the weather getting warmer and enjoying our time with family and friends. All that was gone.

She reads a portion of it:

CC:  After hours
of unending statistics that pour
like poison into the sleeping ears. The ears
exposed during a garden nap, an April afternoonwhen all you’d want is a flyover by the young spring birds, or
the contrails of unseen jets overhead.

And here is another local winner Jennifer Hawthorne, a New York Times Best Selling author.

JH: I coauthored several of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

Poetry however is a bit of a new thing for her and she just released her first book of poetry call Life as a Prayer

Credit Jennifer Hawthorne
Jennifer Hawthorne

JH: It is just such an extraordinary experience for me, and I can’t believe that I actually won something in a contest!

Her local winning poem called COVID CALENDAR was inspired by the sudden ceasing of activities due to the shutdown.

JH: I found myself looking at my calendar in various forms with this incredible emptiness. There was nothing on my calendar.

Here she reads the end of her poem:

JH: Ah, COVID calendar, in the beginning
you looked anemic. Pallid. Listless.
But now we know the truth—
not for one second will we ever look back
and pretend that you were empty.

About 100 poems from the contest are being put together into a book. Find out more here:



Mark Hinkley reads his poem MONARCHS

Cherie Clark reads her poem IN THE VALLEY OF APRIL

Jennifer Hawthorne reads her poem COVID CALENDAR

BONUS: This is not from the COVID contest, however here is IRC Poet Laureate Sean Sexton reading his new poem RFK: RIP