ZIP code poetry contest challenges entrants – Toledo Blade

Abygail Spurling and Kahlil Carpenter conversed enthusiastically at the start of a poetry contest in downtown Toledo.

“There is a lot of people I know here and I kind of enjoy [the company of] fellow poets,” young Carpenter, 16, said. “It was a challenge to kind of write the poem in those confines. I loved it because it reminded me of writing sonnets.”

The two Toledo School for the Arts sophomores were among 27 Ode to the Zip Code Live Poetry on 419 Day contest finalists who came to the Toledo-Lucas County Library’s main branch Wednesday.

The finalists each read their five-line poem inspired by their respective neighborhood and written based on its ZIP code, with the number of words in each line of the poem equal to the corresponding digit in the code. The finalists had each just one poem to read, with the exception of three who had two.

“I am really doing it, because there’s really no downside to it; it’s all a positive thing,” young Spurling, also 16, said when asked why she participated. “You get to write a code poem, which is a good exercise. And it was fun. Then, if you win, you have the money.”

A three-judge panel was to decide which three of the finalists’ 30 poems were the best, with the winning authors getting $300 for the first place, $200 for the second place. and $100 for the third.

Sponsored by the Fair Housing Center, the Toledo Arts Commission, the library, and the Toledo City Paper, the contest was inspired by a program started by the literary organization in Miami. April is both Fair Housing Month and National Poetry Month.

Sarah Jenkins, chief of communications and outreach for the Fair Housing Center, said finalists were selected based on the quality of their work out of 164 people who had submitted 256 poems online.

The poems typically fall into two categories: The uplifting ones, which reflect happy experiences, and the darker or “bleak ones,” which reflect “crime, blight, and other neighborhood struggles,” Ms. Jenkins said.

“It’s a way to raise awareness of the struggles that some people are fighting in our neighborhoods, to give attention to some of the neighborhoods that are often overlooked,” she said of the contest.

First place went to Lydia Horvath of the 43609 ZIP code for her poem that goes:

Near Detroit and Airport

We finally settled

Family of six, crowded into rentals

(here’s when I won’t discuss the summer we were homeless)

But there on Somerset, my very own pink bedroom.

Sandra Rivers-Gill of 43615 won second and Justin Longacre of 43613 won third. Jonie McIntire of 43612 won the Special Prize.

Contact Mike Sigov at:, 419-724-6089, or on Twitter @mikesigovblade.

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