Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Alfred C. Carey Prize in Spoken Word Poetry Winner: Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay

In April, My Feet Only Walk Forward announced the first annual Alfred C. Carey Prize in Spoken Word Poetry. I started this award to honor my Grandfather Alfred Charles Carey. Grandpa Carey was a tremendous human being. He was a working class mixed race man of Irish and Ojibwe descent. His Mother, Suzanna, was born on La Courte Oreilles Reservation in Wisconsin, and my grandfather worked his whole life as a roofer. He was a scion of one of the original families of Duluth, MN, and he was the gentlest soul I have ever met. I love and honor my grandfather. He was, in many respects, the ideal male figure in my life, and I miss him dearly.

When I announced the award I wrote:

Alfred C. Carey was a hard working man from Northern Minnesota. He worked in construction, specifically roofing, while raising a family of 8, including three children not biologically his own. He represented a series of beautiful and sometimes hard contradictions in race, class, and history. He also, without a vocabulary around race and sexuality, accepted all of his children and grandchildren for who they were without judgment. This award is named in the honor of my grandfather.

Since then, I shared with my family that I had announced this award and my amazing grandmother, Dorithy Carey, gave her blessing to it.

It is with much pride that I announce that the winner of the first Alfred C. Carey Prize in Spoken Word Poetry is Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay.

Saymoukda called Mooks by her friends is a Lao American writer, essayist, playwright, and spoken word poet who has toured and performed extensively nationally and internationally. Playwright and co-founder of The Unit Collective - as well as reigning female member of Imperial DJ Science Crew.

And, on a personal note, I know Mooks from the amazing spoken word community in Minneapolis. For years her poetry has spoken to me, and I am very happy that she is the first Carey Prize winner.

The winning poem, "When Everything Was Everything," is powerful, raw, fierce, and embodies the Carey Prize. Congratulations to Mooks and thank you for submitting your work.

You can read more of Mooks' work at her blog Refugenius.
I would also like to give a special shout out honorable mention to Christy NaMaee Eriksen. Her poem, "You Bring Out the Korean Adoptee In Me," was a VERY VERY VERY VERY close contender for the prize. If I were a rich man, I would provide her a $150 stipend as well.

Tomorrow, I will publish Ms. Eriksen's poem, and here is the winning poem of the first annual Carey Prize (please note the authors retain all rights to these poems and they are reproduced here with their permission).


1. Food stamps in my pockets. Two dollars worth of Now n Laters. Green saliva, couldn't swallow quick enough. Standing nervous. Red light on Dale Street. Crossed the bridge over Hwy 94. Trekking back to St. Albans. Candy wrappers clenched tight. Waved good-bye to Tiger Jack.
2. Every Friday Bhet opens the screen door and announces, "Pahw mah la, pahw mah la!!" All afternoon we've waited. In my father's tan Izuzu truck we drove to Hudson. Mom buys lottery tickets for her, bags of Funyuns and a giant slurpie for us. Bhet likes the blue ones -- they stain his tongue so good, makes a point to show me every time. On the way home, mom spends imaginary millions in out-loud daydreams. Blue-lipped smiling, Bhet tells me we are like kings in Dad's gold chariot. I agreed.
3. Bowl cuts. Red-handle scissors.
4. Holding my Korean blanket, rolled under my arms. Dad carried trash bags, everything we owned, slung over his shoulders. Tiny feet tired from walking, twelve blocks to our new home. Stopping every other he asks, "Ee la, nyang die yoo baw?" Every time, looking up, forcing smile, "Doiy, ee pahw."
5. 692 North St., St. Paul. 250 Oxford Str. North, St. Paul. 308 North St. Albans, St. Paul. 3634 15th Ave. South, Mpls. 1090 York Ave., St. Paul. 130 Bates Ave., St. Paul
6. "Mah nee, ee Thoun," Bhet says. I follow him to his first grade classroom, passing cubbies, water color family portraits, and a picture of Jesus the Christ. He lifts up the lid of his school desk, no. 2 pencils with bite marks, color crayons, and two small boxes of Sunmaid raisins. He hands me one and smiles, showing teeth.
7. I interrupted my class when I walked in, returned from an ESL session. Mr. Smith made everyone read out loud, stopping when they want to. No one ever reads more than three sentences from The Cay. They giggled and snickered on my turn. That day, I read two chapters without stopping to breathe. The snickering, ridiculing, and ESL sessions stopped after that.
8. The art of haggling with the Hmong grandmothers at the Farmers Market is not for the meek minded.
9. I killed my father's lawn one summer with my blue plastic pool. Fresh out the bag Disney underwear and bare chested, grass blades speckled my feet and ankles, I watched as the grinning crocodile begins to swim, hidden sometimes by the sun's reflection, until water spills tiny waterfalls over the brim.
10. Hand-me-down jeans, ripped, and dirtied at the knee. Working in cucumber fields. Picking only the ones as big as my 5 year old hands.
11. Grocery store. Pharmacy. Welfare office. Parent-teacher conferences. All are unmaneuverable without your double tongue, looking up to your right, up to your left, at adult mouths moving and adult ears, waiting, listening to everything lost in an 8 year old’s interpretation.
12. Carrying a roll of toilet paper in a wrinkled over-used plastic bag, I jumped into my father’s Izuzu. Seldom visible at 3 A.M., the moon can’t hear Father singing. During the hour drive to a Christmas wreath-making factory, suspended between awake and weary. Mother cups my face with her sap-dried hands, dirt under her nails, plants kisses before unrolling 6, 8, 10 sheets to blow the dust out of her nose. Her hand rakes my hair and neck leaving dried flakes of sap, the smell of pine, the residual optimism she still has.
13. I went to Head Start preschool. Bhet went to Saint Mark's Catholic school.
14. Be the first to line up in front of the food truck before its back door slide up, thundering over the murmurings. Everyone wonders if they’ll get a bag of frozen chicken this time. Or angel food cake, two days passed the expiration date. I exchange all of my cheeses for boxes of rice with anyone who doesn’t look like me.
15. Mrs. Jaquelin traded cassette tapes with mom every week. Roy Ayers, Sade, and Dolly Parton for Thai singers I only knew by face.

When Everything Was Everything *Notes*
2. Pahw mah la, pahw mah la!! (Dad is here! Dad is here!)
4. Ee la, nyang die yoo baw? (Babygirl, are you okay to walk?); Doiy, ee pahw. (Yes sir, Daddy.)
6. Mah nee, ee Thoun. (Come here, Thoun.)

Thank you again, and congratulations.


  1. Yo Mooks! Congratulations! Great poem.

  2. thank you!! coming from the both you, my uterus is fluttering with love.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings, and insights. And thank you for reading!