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Williams captures 2016 Project Poet with “raw” prose

November 1, 2016
By cnp
Posted in Student Events

Whether she's writing poetry about vegetarianism, sperm donation or questioning the gender of God, Emilie Williams enjoys challenging her classmates to think outside their comfort zones.

Williams, known around campus as "Weave," was recently selected the champion of the 10th annual Project Poet competition. Williams not only won the $1,000 first-place prize, she earned the title of Poet Laureate of the Spadra Valley for the next year.

The sophomore religion and philosophy major from Keller, Texas, won the five-week creative poetry contest by outlasting 29 of her fellow students. And, Williams accomplished the feat by approaching her topics from nontraditional perspectives.

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Sophomore Emilie Williams of Keller, Texas, serves as co-president of the Presbyterian Campus Ministries and volunteers with the University’s chaplain office, often helping to organize and lead music and liturgy during weekly Chapel services.

"I would describe my poetry as raw," Williams said. "I like writing about topics that make people uncomfortable, such as sperm donation, and that make people think or question things, like why we limit God to a gender. Above all, I only write poems that are true to who I am and the story of my life so far. I say things that need to be said, and poetry just gives me a platform to say them in a more sophisticated, entertaining way."

Williams said she has been always been drawn to the power of poetry.

"Ever since I was exposed to spoken word poetry, I have been obsessed," she said. "There’s just something about watching someone tell their stories through poetry spoken out loud by the poet themselves, rather than just reading poetry on paper. You can feel the genuine emotion behind every word they say.  I entered Project Poet to express myself, my love for the art of the spoken word and writing in general."

Williams said she did not have a structured method for creating her poetry.

"For free verse, I just sort of pick my topic and write down my thoughts about it in no particular order," she said. "Sometimes that turns into an elaborate story, like it did in my final poem, ‘Transgendered God.’ For others, it just becomes a list that I organize for emotional emphasis. I basically follow the same process for any other formal poems, but rework phrasing to fit the syllables or rhyme scheme. I try not to over-edit because I think in over-editing we lose our voice and sound less like ourselves."

Growing up in the Presbyterian Church, Williams said for many years she has felt a call to the ministry. At Ozarks, she serves as co-president of the Presbyterian Campus Ministries and as a student leader for the interfaith working group on campus. She also volunteers with the University’s chaplain office, often helping to organize and lead music and liturgy during weekly Chapel services.
"World religions are fascinating to me, and analyzing their theologies and structure from a philosophical standpoint is something I think everyone can learn from," she said. "Even if you aren’t religious or are close-minded to religions other than your own faith practice, learning about the histories and the ethics behind a school of thought is crucial when learning to understand each another. To most people, my major seems to only prepare me for parish ministry, but there are really so many things I can do with this major."

Williams sees a career in interfaith work in her future, though it may not be in the traditional sense.

"I want to educate people about false-religious biases, more specifically dealing with islamophobia in the United States," she said. "I have toyed around with the idea of a documentary series about how food and faith go hand-in-hand, maybe starting some kind of interfaith summer camp for youth, traveling to experience ‘taboo’ religious traditions and writing about them, or speaking about the interfaith movement and providing inter-religious diversity training for companies. The awesome thing about interfaith work is that it is that there are not many pre-established careers in place, so I would basically get to create my own job."

Williams plans on eventually attending Divinity school or seminary and then earning her Ph.D. In the short term, she will study abroad in Athens, Greece, during the 2017 Spring Semester, an experience she believes may open even more future possibilities.

"If I learn enough Greek, I would love to do some kind of humanitarian work in northern Greece for a year working with Syrian refugees that have relocated to Europe’s eastern border," she said. "My dad is of Syrian descent, so they are a people I feel called to serve. Honestly, the situation over there is so horrible. I am confused as to why we aren’t sending more help."

While Williams enjoys challenging her classmates to step outside their comfort zones, she credits U of O for helping her do just that.

"This University has helped me grow as a student by giving me so many opportunities to become a more well-rounded member of society," Williams said. "The liberal arts curriculum forces you to step out of your comfort zone and learn about other subjects and schools of thought you might not normally study on your own. My professors challenge me, but they also have my best interest at heart. I’m only a sophomore and I’ve had multiple campus jobs, leadership positions, and will get to spend a semester abroad because of the campus initiative to encourage all students to have an international experience as a student. There are so many opportunities at Ozarks that help you grow as person and find your individuality on and off campus."


By Emilie Williams

Head balanced perfectly in my hands, flawlessly round,
I grow a bit uneasy.
I’m told that I must do this, to prove myself, my devotion.
I dare not disrupt such beauty.
"Is this love" I wonder?  No, this is lettuce.

The crunch satisfies with every sweep of the knife,
cutting fork-full bundles of … deliciousness.
Water misting as each layer of leaves split
so crisp, so clean, so … appetizing?

Bite after bite I am underwhelmed,
teeth shred bland, veiny, flavorless vegetation.
Each clench of the jaw grows more hesitant than the last.
The pile of pale edible greenery remains,
screaming to be consumed, taunting me.

Fork clinks on ceramic plate, a sign of surrender.
I scoot the platter away from my reach,
I know that if even if all is consumed, I remain hungry.

But a gentle voice whispers in my ear,
"You’re a vegetarian, vegetarians eat lettuce"

so I do.
Insipid wads of leafy nutrition tickle each gulp.
My motivation is maintaining the veggie aesthetic.
I am successful this time,
unsatisfied, but no less successful.

The clean plate stares back at me from the table,
glistening from little water puddles.
I grin with content.

Now, will someone buy me a pizza?

"Transgendered God"
By Emilie Williams

"In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God" and she… was a woman.

More than beautiful, breathtakingly bodacious, beaming, bountiful, birthing-hips and all God formed this planet in her womb. She spent six days assembling, hand stitching creation cell by cell, the seventh resting, and started the eighth by giving birth to the planet she saw was good. Like a mother to her newborn, she swaddled the earth, held it to her bosom and kissed it, blessing and promising parental guidance to her children for millennia to come.
She kept that promise.
God loved and nurtured her children more than humanity ever could, but was quick to correct them. When her children became too wicked for minor consequences, she tested tough love. She saved Noah and washed the other’s mouths out with salt. Her power was more than she had comprehended. Ending lives she herself had created, she wept. For forty days and forty nights she sent her tears upon the planet she produced, mourned the loss of all but few of her precious offspring. She wasn’t perfect, and she hated punishing, but made a pact she would not destroy it again.

Generations passed, her progeny multiplied and she was content. She sits at the head of the table before a feast she slaved preparing to feed her children welcomed home to heaven. But they told her the children below were not loyal to her, they put idols before their heavenly mother that adored them. They killed each other with weapons, wars caused brother to turn on brother, blood poured over them faster than water or wine.

God asked them why, they told her because she was she was a she, and earthly kings were he’s. Her people only knew to follow the voices of men who protected friends from foes. For on earth beautiful life conceiving women were weak, and men were mighty, and only a father’s sternness could save them.

So the transient, transcendent, God became transforming, transliterated, transgendered God.

She lost her feminine touch. Her breasts lost their milk and she sewed her womb shut, leaving her creation for us to mother. She became He.
He became God the father, the one who commanded so much of humankind. He let his sons and daughters wander in the desert for forty years. His alpha male rigid ways still not enough to cease their rebellion. He sent laws to follow, they disobeyed, he sent daughters to show his peaceful love, they were raped, Hagar bore Abram a son, and Ishmael wasn’t what he wanted, Leah wasn’t good enough for Jacob, Hannah was presumed to be drunk…

Then God sent Jesus to a pure, young, salt of the earth virgin, to speak of HIS power, HIS majesty, HIS forgiveness, and HIS promise of everlasting life.

And it was then that her… his… children began somewhat understanding.