Before he even started writing his award-winning poem, Alex Thurtle ’24 had a very specific image in mind: a dollar store tiara and a feather boa falling to the floor.
Thurtle won this year’s Jean Corrie Poetry Competition with his poem “A Realist’s Curse”. The poem is a reflection on the struggles of human connection that Thurtle experienced in his life.
One of the main ideas of the poem is Thurtle’s difficulty in understanding abstract ideas and things that are not essentially sensory experiences.
“I’m very reassured by the things I can see,” Thurtle said.
Because she struggles to make sense of things that aren’t visible, it can be difficult to understand social relationships, Thurtle explained.
The poem is then based on the navigation between platonic and romantic relationships, which can produce elements of tension and unfamiliar feelings.
“I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like things to be up in the air, and I like to have a solid answer about what something is,” Thurtle said. “How do you make sense of all these different things that are happening, but there’s no answer? There is rejection.
So the poem is about when physical cues and feelings don’t align. However, it is also about the movement involved in coming back from this rejection.
“Sometimes when you’re stuck in this headspace where you’re thinking and analyzing all these different things that have happened, it stops you from moving on. And so I think the image of putting on the tiara and the feather boa and pretending and moving, I think that was a very accurate metaphor for what I’m trying to do in life,” a- she declared.
Another theme of the poem is childhood, and what the actions and items of childhood, which she called “accessories”, mean to her now.
“Those [props] can be assigned meaning,” Thurtle said. “There is always a value to be assigned to an inanimate object.”
Overall, this reflection on the dichotomy between accepting something that isn’t based on reality and being rejected for trying was an important poem for Thurtle in more ways than one – it was one of the first poems she has written since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Although she has been writing poetry since the age of four, she stopped writing for almost two years due to guilt and anger associated with the pandemic.
In early 2022, Thurtle decided it was time to use poetry as a tool for treatment again.
“It was a very personal poem…so I didn’t expect to share it with other people,” Thurtle said.
The poem, which is complete with short sentences, italics and punctuation marks, mimics Thurtle’s way of speaking. Thurtle, a double major in English and drama, said she is a firm believer in the theory that poetry should be read aloud.
Contest judge, poet Paul Tran, wrote that Thurtle’s poem “embodies what makes poetry extraordinary: the presence of a singular self speaking from the page, the spoken word compressed into its most emotionally and psychologically charged, and the obvious link between these elements and the formal qualities of the poem.
Tran also gave Madeline Marriott ’24 an honorable mention for her poem “A Man is Born.” Thurtle and Marriott both read their poems at the annual Jean Corrie poetry reading on Wednesday.
the curse of a realist
I’ve never been very good at pretend play.
tiaras never shimmered as much as I wanted them to,
the weight of their cheap plastic has never lightened the heaviness of tomorrow and yesterday;
feather boas always lose their pieces far too quickly.
I couldn’t bring myself to imagine a world where accessories meant Something.
the curse of a realist is heavy
because I never learned to look beyond the things I could
see hear touch smell taste.
but, when I believed in SomethingI couldn’t stop.
that made it even harder to pretend that we were never Something.
How to pretend to forget the nights spent debating
philosophy and religion and heaviness and love and lust and death and pain and pain and us.
How can I pretend to hide the way you held my gaze
far too long
like a toddler clinging to his mother in a grocery store.
How can I pretend that your touch hasn’t
set wildfires along my palms, forearms and chest.
for now though,
I have to learn to pretend.
I’ll learn how to put on my plastic dollar store tiara and my fluffy feather boa and
maybe I’ll dream a little.