June 15, 2015

Nicole Zelniker Wins Poetry Prize

The Greenleaf Review writing retreat was held in October at a lakeside camp an hour from Greensboro, but Nicole Zelniker ’17 chose to write about a creature that lives in the sea.

It stings to the touch
if you rub it the wrong way.
Spiny spikes spotted
at the bottom of the ocean.

So begins “Gift Shop Giveaway,” Nicole’s 20-line, 99-word poem, composed during the retreat’s workshop on nature poetry.

“I don’t remember what the prompt was or why I chose to write about coral, but I’m happy I did,” she says. “I guess that’s how good writing tends to happen. You don’t normally know where it comes from.”

Wherever it came from, her poem has been awarded first place in the 2014-15 Anthony Abbott Undergraduate Poetry Competition. Sponsored by the Charlotte Writers’ Club and named in honor of an award-winning poet and novelist, the contest is open to all North Carolina college students.

“A gift shop encounter with a piece of coral engages the poetic imagination,” the judge of the competition wrote. “This poem stood out because unlike the other entries, it steps outside of the poet’s personal experience of family and childhood experiences, connecting instead to the larger world of our planet and our thoughtless destruction of its ecosystems.”

Jennie Malboeuf, a faculty member in the Department of English and Creative Writing, led the nature poetry workshop.

“Nicole’s poem has such sharp images and splendid turns of phrase,” Jennie says. “When she first composed a draft of this piece, those images struck me as really pointed and specific pictures. The poem was filled with sensory connection and a control of diction. She demonstrates such promise as a young writer – very impressive.

Nicole, an English major from Hartsdale, N.Y., began writing poetry when she was 7, but it wasn’t until just a few years ago that something clicked, she says. Her poetry improved dramatically during her senior year of high school thanks to creative writing teacher Tiffany Moleski.

The guidance and support of English faculty members at Guilford have been critical to her continued development as a writer, says Nicole, who actually writes more prose than poetry. She’s grateful to her faculty mentors who, in addition to Jennie, include Jim Hood, Jeff Jeske, Matthew Armstrong and Mylène Dressler. Mylène, advisor to The Greenleaf Review, the College’s literary journal, encouraged Nicole to enter her poem in the contest.

“I’ve been enormously impressed by Nicole’s dedication to her craft, her love of poetry and fiction, and by the way in which she’s already taking risks in her work and life – both by taking her work seriously and by getting her work ‘out there,’” Mylène says.

What’s next for Nicole as a writer?

“The ultimate goal is to get published,” Nicole says, “but that's every writer’s goal, isn’t it? Mostly, I’d just like to keep enjoying writing and be able to do what I love for the rest of my life.