Certo wins two awards for poetry collection

October 27, 2020

Faculty member Janine Certo was recently chosen as the winner of two distinctive honors for her new poetry collection, ELIXIR.

The collection received the Bordighera Press 2020 Lauria/Frasca Poetry Prize judged by Maria Terrone as well as the 2020 New American Poetry Prize judged by Corey Van Landingham. ELIXIR will be co-published by Bordighera Press and New American Press in 2021.  

Certo is a poet and associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University. Her research interests include contemporary poetics, identity in the Southern Italian diaspora, the poetics of space, poetic inquiry, arts-based research, sociocultural perspectives of childhood writing, and teacher education.

Janine Certo
Janine Certo

“Poetry runs through my work as a scholar, teacher and citizen,” Certo says. “I view my work as a poet as creative scholarship, as rigorous work as any other method of inquiring into the world.”

Certo, who has worked at MSU for 14 years, does a great deal of research for many of her poems, whether it’s examining archival evidence, reading philosophical, sociological, historical or ecological literature, or interviewing family members.

“My work as a poet also informs my work as a language and literacy scholar, specifically with regard to how people of all ages engage with poetry,” she explains.

One example is her book, “Children Writing Poems: Poetic Voices in and Out of School” (Routledge, 2018), which demonstrates how poetry gave Lansing youth the agency to explore their lived (or imagined) experiences. Certo also teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on poetry, serves on editorial boards to provide expertise on submissions of poetry, and participates in poetry writing groups in and outside of the College of Education.

“I would say I’m squarely an arts and humanities-oriented faculty member who could just as easily work in a Department of English,” she says.

Creating ELIXIR

ELIXIR is the latest installment of literary work by Certo, whose poetry also appears or is forthcoming in The RumpusThe Greensboro ReviewNew Ohio ReviewMid-American Review, Crab Orchard Review and Quiddity, among other publications. Her debut poetry collection, “In the Corner of the Living,” was first runner-up for the 2017 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award.

Many of the individual poems to appear in ELIXIR have themselves won prizes. For example, a set of six of Certo’s poems, many of which are about the current pandemic, earned her Second Prize in the Nimrod International Journal’s 2020 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry judged by Kaveh Akbar.

When describing ELIXIR, Bordighera Press distinguished judge Maria Terrone shares that Certo “is a poet of grief and joy who searches inward and outward to find the transcendent meaning of ‘house and universe.’ Hers is a rare achievement: a philosopher’s intelligence at work in poems of the domestic and natural worlds. In the deeply moving pantoum “Elixir for My Father,” she weaves together her book’s motifs: Italian American roots and family, love, life, and loss. Like idiosyncratic objects on a home altar, these poems are offerings of longing and hope. Through odes and elegies, her keen powers of observation and elegant language shine. Always, she holds onto beauty: ‘this sweet/bright life full of heartbeat/& memory.’”

Certo shares that many of the poems in ELIXIR explore Italian American consumer culture, her own experience as a third generation Italian American and the “provocative concept of home.”

In the often highly competitive publishing world, receiving awards like these is a valuable step toward publication. However, even without the promise of prizes, Certo would continue to write.

“I’m one of those people who needs poetry,” she says. “The world is beautiful and horrible and too much and not enough. The contemplative nature of writing poems appeals to me, but increasingly, I don’t want to just document my own life.”

Earlier this year, Certo took a workshop with poet Major Jackson, and shares this quote from him:

“Imagine someone coming to your art and needing your words, then you come to the art in spiritual service and with love and humility. Look up and see what’s happening around you and address it directly or indirectly. Offer an epiphany, for they are in short supply in the world.”

Major Jackson

“So, it’s the writing of the poetry that matters most to me, that I can take work over several years and assemble it into a book in the hopes it might be of service to readers,” she says. “Winning these awards is icing on the cake, demonstrating that a press and a distinguished judge noticed and liked your work. It’s validation from the contemporary poetry world.”

Certo’s completion of ELIXIR was supported by funding from the Humanities and Arts Research Program (HARP) at MSU.

Written by Ilene Davis