It was an early-morning call to the award winner’s St. Anthony Park home.
“You’re on the front page of the Grand Forks Herald!” Kristal Leebrick’s mother excitedly told her from North Dakota.
Leebrick had just won first prize in Garrison Keillor’s Common Good Books Love Letters poetry contest and the day before accepted her $1,000 award and read “New Year Love” in an event at Macalester College. Author and humorist Keillor told her it was a “lovely poem” and called her writing “sure-footed.”
Days later, Leebrick, the editor of the Park Bugle community newspaper, was enjoying her brush with celebrity but not taking her new status too seriously. She said her decision to enter the contest was spurred by a desire to resume her poetry writing after putting it aside for some years.
“New Year Love” is a story of youthful romance and represents a different perspective for Leebrick.
“I took a lot of writing courses in college and did a bit of poetry writing afterward, but what I wrote then was not about me,” she says. “This is and it’s a little embarrassing.”
She’s taken some joshing about the poem, she says, but has enjoyed hearing from people, including many from North Dakota, where she grew up. Leebrick spent several days on the verse, as she puts it, “carving it up and messing with it.”
And even though winning a poetry award would seem to show that one is, indeed, a poet, she had no plans of giving up her day job.
“I think poetry is playful,” Leebrick says. “I find it fun to play with words and images.”
Here’s the poem:
NEW YEAR LOVE
I remember our breath
in the icy air
and how the northern lights gathered
in a haze at the horizon,
spread up past the water tower
then vanished into the dark.
I remember that January night in North Dakota:
We left the dance,
the hoods of our dads’ air force parkas zipped tight,
our bare hands pulled into the coat sleeves.
We ran into the wind down the drifting sidewalks of our eighth-grade lives
to the brick-and-clapboard row houses on Spruce Street.
We ducked between buildings
and you pulled me close.
A flickering light from someone’s TV screen.
A kitchen window.
Your fingers tracing my face.
Your hair brushing my eyes.
Your skin, your lips.
I remember that January night in North Dakota,
but I can’t remember your name.