Thank you, storytellers and poets of Baltimore, for making these decisions so difficult. No, really: not only were there significantly more entries in both categories this year--224 fiction and 340 poetry entries--but they both dealt with a great variety of themes and subjects in narrative voices ranging from the comedic to the horrific, in language that turned to symbolic metaphor as an insulating shield or soberly used unflinching realism to document all the troubling details.
These entries were topical, too, tackling our country's increasingly hobo economy and political climate and our city's constant battles with the forces that sustain substance abuse, crime, and murder and how such cataclysmic events devastate people, families, and communities. Poems arrived in strident rhymed meters and arresting blank verse; stories showed in breathless first-person prose and obstinately detached third-person accounts. And while not every poem or story connected with judges, every year it's still very humbling to sift through such an abundant display of the city's writing talent.
In the end, though, there can be only three top choices in each category, which you will find in this issue. The editorial staff read the first pass of both fiction and poetry entries. The poetry finalists were judged by veteran writers and City Paper contributors Petula Caesar and Rupert Wondolowski and CP's very own Wendy Ward, and the fiction finalists were judged by Wondolowski, short-story writer, jmww literary e-zine editor, and 510 Readings series cohost Jen Michalski, and CP's Bret McCabe. And in addition to being published in this very issue, the winners take home something much better: cash. In fiction, the first-place winner takes home $350, second garners $250, and third gets $150. Poets pick up $150, $100, and $50, respectively.