Fairmont State University Student Wins National Poetry Award


April is Celebrating Poetry Month across the nation. West Virginia’s had a great many poets find success, including Irene McKinney, Linda Goodman, and Tom Andrews. But there’s a young man from Fairmont who’s now also making a name for himself in the field of poetry.

Ian Williams is a 21 year old college student at Fairmont State University. He studies English Education and he dreams of becoming a college professor at some point during his life. But before that, he’s finding success as a poet. Williams recently won a national Poetry Award, in the National Federation of State Poetry Societies College/University Level Poetry Competition. Ian was one of two first place winners. He says he first got interested in poetry as a high school student in Fairmont.

I was that kid who thought he was super sensitive, and was really pretentious about being able to feel. I can feel the pains in the world and I am able to write them down,” Williams joked.

Williams stopped writing for awhile in high school and early on in college but picked poetry up again during his second year at Fairmont State. He says he worked with a professor who helped him better shape his work. Now, he’s a teacher too. He is completing his student teaching at North Marion High School, in Marion County. He says writing poetry is like going on an adventure, and he hopes to convince young people that the adventure is worth taking.

I think that poetry has been largely overlooked by a lot of people because it’s short, and it’s compact, and there’s a lot of meaning into it. I think it has gained this very pretentious reputation. I’m hoping in some small way I can help break down that reputation, and can make poetry more accessible for a broader selection of people,” he said.

Williams’s winning selection is a manuscript entitled “House of Bones.”

Here’s an excerpt:

Rattling Sounds, Bone to Bone

I have bruised my knees       against the tiles flooring this       clerestory of ribs         backed by a Doric spine.       Head bent, eyes adjacent   polished marble—narrow       lips dry the lines escaping.       Everything I see shrinks away—             now a valley of dry bones.       The words shrivel behind   my throat, knowing I cannot       attach tendons; I cannot cover you       with skin; I cannot         put breath into your lungs again.       I cannot make you live.   I fear a vacant throat— I fear it might one day be filled.

What does it take to be a good poet?

Williams says writing a poem can present a great deal of struggles; including being happy with the words you’ve put to paper.

“I think that’s one of the biggest struggles with writing poetry in particular, that kind of self-criticism that goes on,” he said.

“I think the qualities that you have to have to be a good poet, is that you have to the determination to do it, and you have to study, and do your reading, to study it seriously. You have be open minded enough to take criticism, and allow other people to butcher your work,” Williams said.

Williams will be receiving the Florence Kahn Memorial Award for his win in this competition. That includes $500 in cash, and his manuscript will be published as a chapbook, a small publication including ten of his poems, which will be limited to just 100 copies. He will also be reading from the book in Salt Lake City in June to celebrate the victory.

“I’ve never really done a public presentation although that’s going to come up when the celebration for this chapbook comes up in Salt Lake City. So how I’m going to present that and perform poetry at that reading, I have no idea. It’s a completely new world for me. This award has opened so many new opportunities, it’s unreal,” Williams said.

Williams may have to get used to it. He’s already working on new poems, and on a new book of poetry about art. He hopes it to be released this year.