Literature 3-4-2008

What Light: This Week’s Poem Judges (March 2008-April 2008)

The readers for this round of the What Light weekly poetry competition were all previous multiple-time winners in their own right, Greg Watson, Jen March, Margaret Hasse, and Todd Pederson. Find out a bit more about them.

Greg Watson
Jen March
Margaret Hasse
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About the Judges

Greg Watson‘s work has appeared in numerous literary journals, including The Seattle Review, Sulphur River Literary Review, and Poetry East. His most recent poetry collections are Pale Light from a Distant Room and Things You Will Never See Again, both published by March Street Press. His latest, The Distance Between Two Hands, will be published in early 2008. He lives in Saint Paul.

So often I am surprised by those poems which seem to have had the most effect on readers. A poem I may feel strongly about, a “success” in my eyes, may leave another feeling cool, uninspired, or ambivalent. Likewise, a piece I may view as a virtual throwaway, shared with a friend or acquaintance on a whim, can have a great emotional impact on that person. So a good reader is essential. A good reader is also a teacher, opening doors to psyche and spirit, just as the poet has attempted to do through his or her work. Certainly I have discovered layers in my own work through the eyes of others. In this way — the stream of language and ideas flowing both ways — poetry continues to inspire and surprise both writer and reader.


Jen March received her MFA in Writing from Hamline University. She was poetry editor of the 2007 issue of rock, paper, scissors, and has served on the poetry editorial board of Water~Stone Review. She has interned with Lit 6 Project, Minnesota Center for Book Arts, and Graywolf Press, and she was the recipient of a 2006 Latitudes Grant from Mizna: A Forum for Arab American Art. Her work has appeared in Mizna Journal, What Light: An Anthology from, Freshwater, and The Northridge Review. She teaches English at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.


As a poet, I am constantly asking questions about life and death. I am concerned with love, loss, and grief, and with the struggle to find reason in living. In Alice Fulton’s essay Of Formal, Free, and Fractal Verse, she talks about creating a form for the poem that is born out of the work itself, and shaped in part by certain repeated words or images. I think about this when considering how my poem will sit on the page as a reflection of living—what pattern exists in uncertainty; what dichotomy creates the whole?


Margaret Hasse is a poet, teacher, and independent consultant to arts, education, and community non-profit organizations. Originally from South Dakota, Margaret moved to Minnesota in 1973 after graduating from Stanford University. She gained an M.A. in English from the University of Minnesota. For more than 15 years, she was involved as a teaching poet with programs such as Arts & Corrections, COMPAS Writers in the Schools, and The Loft. Her publications include Stars Above, Stars Below (New Rivers Press) and In a Sheep’s Eye, Darling (Milkweed Editions). She is working on a third book of poems. She lives with her husband and two sons in Saint Paul.


On a poetic family tree, I believe I grow from a branch made strong by Elizabeth Bishop and Stanley Kunitz who wrote that he admired poems that “ride the beast of an action.”
I want my poems to be welcoming, lyrical, and narrative like the poems of Naomi Shihab Nye and Mark Doty. In To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf wrote: “The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark…” I write to light matches with words, and to play with fire, by which I mean to discover strangeness in the ordinary, and to face the danger and heat of exploring the awesome mystery of life. Effective poems connect people to many layers of thoughts and feelings and make us feel more alive.


Todd Pederson is a technical writer for a biomedical research corporation in
Chaska, and a student in the MFA program at Hamline University. Todd lives in
Eden Prairie with his wife and two children, whom he thanks for their patience and inspiration.


For me, poetry is the response to what are often simple, yet commanding, occurrences—such as an affecting scene from a favorite movie. The most gratifying ideas are those which increase and reach, inexplicably, for one or more seemingly disparate elements of my life and draw them into the piece—with this poem, love; guilt and privilege; a passing lament for the recklessness of adolescence. In these moments, poetry surpasses a string of lines and stanzas written on a page; poetry becomes the medium through which I (perhaps, we) celebrate this life’s great joys, and overcome its disappointments.