A Waterloo man recently won a national pandemic poetry contest organized by former National Public Radio host Garrison Keillor.
Steve Loomis was selected as one of 10 winners of the contest for his poem “Life in the Ultra-Slow Lane.”
“I was thunderstruck,” Loomis, who moved to Waterloo from Centralia in 2016, said of winning. “I had an inkling that it might be a contender, but this was the first time I ever heard from somebody important like that. So the whole family was pretty excited.”
Loomis went out of his comfort zone to submit a piece for this contest, which his son told him about.
Loomis typically writes in prose, as he has written short stories, magazine articles, historical pieces, speeches and more.
“I really don’t consider myself a poet at all,” he said. “And I didn’t consider it to be a poem because I think of poetry as being something that rhymes in a regular pattern, not really thinking of the free form kind of verse.”
Loomis wrote his poem near the start of the coronavirus pandemic, before the seriousness of the situation really hit home.
The work is about the impressions of a day Loomis had in March as the pandemic began to affect everyday life.
“It struck you as so strange,” Loomis said. “One day I went through a day of going to Walmart to get groceries and waiting in line, and I just put it into a humorous slant. My son blocked it out in paragraph form more or less like a poem, and that’s how it ended up being submitted.”
“I thought what I wrote might have been quirky enough to strike Garrison Keillor as funny, and apparently it did,” Loomis added.
As it turned out, Keillor was looking for poems that were not all doom and gloom, which helped Loomis’ writing stand out among submissions by professional writers.
For winning the contest, Loomis’ poem was featured on Writer’s Almanac, Keillor’s online publication that organized the contest.
Loomis also spoke with Keillor via Zoom, which he said made talking to the national figure easier.
“I think if you were in person you would be a little more excited and intimidated by a public persona like that,” Loomis noted.
Loomis said he is now compiling some of his old work to make a collection of poetry. Additionally, he has a short story, perhaps a novel in the works and two historical pieces in the works.
One of the historical writings focuses on early baseball in Illinois, while the other is about early brass bands in the state.
To read Loomis’ winning poem or watch his interview with Keillor, visit garrisonkeillor.com/radio/pandemic-poetry-5.