Alexander Stinton

by Dana Kester-McCabe

This year’s Sophie Kerr Prize winner Alex Stinton is a native of Maryland’s Eastern Shore Maryland having grown up on Tilghman Island and graduated from St. Michael’s High School. We met in the small patio garden behind his parents’ home where he talked about how he became interested in writing.

This is the 47th year that Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, has granted the Sophie Kerr Prize to the graduating senior who shows the most “ability and promise” as a writer. Endowed by Sophie Kerr a native of Denton, it is the largest literary award given to an undergraduate in the country.

In high school a teacher introduced him to the work of Wordsworth with its "archaic" language and propensity for drama which he found himself emulating for a long time. Wordsworth's epic Prelude describes a story about stealing a boat caught his imagination.

Alex knew when he applied to enter Washington College that he wanted to take advantage of what their liberal arts curriculum could offer a young writer. He found value taking classes both within and outside of his major. This was especially true of psychology classes, which can help the writer understand and write about people's problems. Alex immersed himself in literature and poetry studies with an emphasis on Romanticism and the work of Irish writers. His senior thesis was on "The Eternal in the poetry of W.B. Yeats".

Though Alex has certain preferences for writing such as a quiet space with few distractions and his trusty computer, a cup of coffee, and a cigarette; his writing process can begin anywhere. Sometimes an idea will come suddenly and you have to write it down on whatever is handy even a MacDonald's receipt. If the idea is worthwhile you won't even have to look at it again. Alex finds his rhythm in natural forms as Ezra Pound suggests in his "three rules" for poets "to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome".

Pound also recommends direct treatment of your subject and using only those words that really contribute to it. This practical approach is a good fit for a writer who has grown up by the waters of the Chesapeake. Alex avoided writing about the Eastern Shore until recently when he found there was something to be said for writing about "what you know". He recalls playing in the creeks and bays near his home, and early mornings sleeping in the bow of his stepfather's fishing boat. Naturally water has become a familiar theme in his work.

He says, "You want there to be two written traces in your life, the work itself and the paycheck." Alex hopes to be a college professor to put food on the table while he pursues his writing.

Alex was kind enough to recite the following poem which he wrote.

Somewhere on the Eastern Shore
Last light collects across the creek
   and there like jadeite or in a dream
   it grows in evergreen hollows.
The water carries a softening music.
Somewhere someone's lit a fire.
The wet smell of hearth opens to the sky
   and farther off a loud door shuts, settles.
Who knew we'd never go west
   that the veins down this neck of the woods would keep us?
I imagine a primeval pioneer
   ear to the ground finger finding windward
   like an auger in the heart of things
He must have gazed on collapsed light
   and place creeping both inward and away.
Tides shift - yes.
But come morning I'll see jets trail a railway for the sun
   and the whole country asleep
   knowing its station is fixed if forgotten
   necessary as the split second silence between some and where.

thing is written and put "out there" it no longer belongs to the writer. This he says is heartbreaking but also beautiful.