- Courtesy Of Jess Dewes
- Kerrin McCadden
The subjects of Kerrin McCadden's poems range from toy gorillas to her brother's death from an overdose to the Irish immigrant experience.
"I really like to [incorporate] my imagination and fuse that with my life," the South Burlington poet said of her writing.
Todd Lockwood established the annual prize in 2014 to honor the artistic legacy of his late brother, Herb, and to celebrate accomplished creatives in Vermont. The award "recognizes artists who produce significant work in the areas of visual arts, music, writing, drama, dance, film, and fine woodworking — while also having a beneficent influence on the Vermont community," according to the press release announcing McCadden's win. The Burlington City Arts Foundation administers the prize.
A longtime writer and educator, McCadden has released two full-length poetry collections — Landscape with Plywood Silhouettes (2014), which won the Vermont Book Award in 2015, and American Wake (2021) — as well as the chapbook Keep This to Yourself (2020).
Lockwood said McCadden's writing style is appealing because it's both accessible and original. "I love the way she plays with reality," he told Seven Days. "The verse can be right in your face, real, and in a matter of words it turns into a metaphor."
Though she's been writing poetry since her teenage years, McCadden did not publish any work until she was nearly 40. She has been a high school English teacher for 30 years, 29 of them at Montpelier High School. Last fall, she turned to teaching literacy integration to students at the Center for Technology, Essex in Essex Junction.
The title of McCadden's most recent collection of poems, American Wake, refers to a mourning party that is held when family members leave Ireland for the possibility of a better life in the United States. The poems address her relationship with her family's rural Ireland homestead, as well as her brother's death from a heroin overdose.
Though the poems in both Landscape with Plywood Silhouettes and Keep This to Yourself explore a variety of other topics, all three books blend the natural world with the metaphorical. "My poems are pretty autobiographical but often pretty imaginative," McCadden said. "I like working in the realm of the unreal."
McCadden is the first poet to win the Lockwood Prize. Past recipients include actor and director Steve Small (2014); artist-typographer Claire Van Vliet (2015); filmmaker Nora Jacobson (2016); novelist Howard Frank Mosher (2017); Bread and Puppet Theater founder Peter Schumann (2018); musician Robert Resnik (2019); dancer and choreographer Hannah Dennison (2020); and musician Ray Vega (2021).
Artists are nominated for the award by a network of advisers around the state, Lockwood said. Then a committee of five meets throughout the spring to consider the nominations and make their choice.
Lockwood designed the selection process to be similar to that of the MacArthur Fellowship in that both the committee members and the nominees remain secret. "It is all kept sort of below the radar," he said.
The criteria on which nominees are evaluated — artistic originality, innovation, imagination, inspiration to other Vermont practitioners of that art form and a beneficent influence on the Vermont community — are made public.
The goal, Lockwood said, is to recognize artists whose creativity and influence are comparable to that of his late brother. Active in the Burlington arts and music scene during the 1980s, Herb died in 1987 in a workplace accident. He was 27.
Because the artists are not told that they've been nominated for the prize, McCadden was stunned to learn that she had won it. "Of course, it blew me away," she said. "It is really humbling to be recognized like this, and it was a real shock to get the phone call."
McCadden hasn't yet decided how she'll use the money — perhaps on a research trip or a family vacation — but one thing is certain: She'll continue writing poetry.