Synkroniciti is thrilled to announce the winner of our “Curiosity” Poetry Contest, “Questions” by Merryn Rutledge. There were two other finalists: “Prisms” by Stacie Eirich and “Ocean, Ocean” by Lori Howe. All three are beautifully crafted poems which unlock a great deal of emotion, vulnerability and empathy. Joseph Washington, dead at twenty-four, “born in North Carolina 1857, a slave, Died Massachusetts 1881, FREE,” who “Lived in the family of Robert, Saba and Effie Church,” is the only black person identified in the historic cemetery of Hanover, Massachusetts. Merryn addresses him directly, her poetic voice resonant, respectful and insistent, probing the truth underlying his headstone and epitaph, wondering what “FREE” meant for this man and how whiteness has obscured his story, even as it granted him a sliver of recognition. We know no details of his life or death, and history teaches us to mistrust both omissions and assertions in the historical record. Was this headstone created in sincere praise of his life or in an attempt to make the community seem more progressive or less cold than he experienced it? Who wrote these words and for whom did they speak? What stood out for us in “Questions,” aside from the beautifully structured, measured and musical writing, was Merryn’s willingness and boldness to ask these hard questions even though there are no answers. The poem reaches its peak with a query into the name of Washington, “And what of your illustrious surname— Did you give it to yourself? Did Washingtons buy and sell your people?” What surname could be more American than Washington and how deeply does injustice, spoken and unspoken, underlie and taint the history we hold dear?
In order to experience Merryn’s insightful and exquisite poetry, pre-order your copy of the “Curiosity” issue here or subscribe to Synkroniciti here. We will also be publishing another of Merryn’s poems, “Reckoning,” in the issue and look forward to publishing two more poems in the next issue.
Merryn Rutledge’s poems have appeared widely. A poetry collection is forthcoming in spring, 2023 from Kelsay Books. She enjoys teaching poetry craft, supporting fellow writers by reviewing their books, singing, dancing, and working for social justice causes. Writing is Merryn’s third career, after teaching literature, film studies, and creative writing at Phillips Exeter Academy, and then running a leadership development consulting firm. Merryn lives near Boston and the seashore, where long, horizon-filled walks feed her soul.