|D. Gilson (center) with graduate students
Maia Gil’Adi (left) and Rachel Obenschain (right)
On Friday, PhD student D. Gilson won the Larry Neal Writers’ Competition in the poetry category. Each year, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities presents these awards to commemorate the artistic legacy and vision of cultural understanding of Larry Neal – a renowned author, academic and former Executive Director of the DCCAH. The competition recognizes the artistic excellence of emerging and established DC writers with monetary awards for submissions in poetry, essays, dramatic writing and short story. The finalists were announced in April and the awards ceremony was on May 3.
The awards reception was held at the Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital on Capitol Hill and co-sponsored by the PEN/Faulkner Foundation. Actress Katy Richey served as master of ceremonies, DC commissioner Lavinia Wohlfarth presented the awards, and 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award winner Benjamin Saenz delivered the welcoming address. Actors Theodore Snead and Dawn Ursula performed two of Gilson’s poems, including “Confessional Poem, Age 7,” for which he won the Larry Neal Award. That poem appears below.
Confessional Poem, Age Seven
Uncle Dennis is the entire state of Texas,
expanse of great prairie and oil-rigged
skyscrapers all contained in the rotunda
of his five-foot-eight frame.
But when my parents bring him home
from Houston, it is 1990. My uncle
does not wear his Stetson,
does not hug me into the cowboy
flank of his new-fangled body.
Uncle Dennis is skinny, is not
Uncle Dennis until I walk beside
his wheelchair, down
the long, bleached hallway
of the nursing home, when he turns
to me, says, Howdy, cowpoke.
Months pass. On the playground
that is being seven years old,
I kiss my best friend Eric Schmitt
behind the dugout. He shoves me
into the dirt and runs away
as my uncle’s radio moans,
If you wanna know, if he loves you so,
it’s in his kiss. That’s where it is.
But I am a child, one who never
learns quick. That night we visit
Uncle Dennis. When Mother whispers
into my ear, Give your uncle a kiss
on the cheek, the KS lesion flowers
above the neckline of his pale blue
hospital gown, a blossom that creeps
like ivy across the distance
of starched sheets between us,
into the garden, fertile, that is
my boy body, and I refuse him.