Traverse City Record-Eagle

Northern Living

April 13, 2014

'IT guy' and poet wins chapbook contest

TRAVERSE CITY — Some experiences fade with time while others still resonate after many years.

That was the case for Robb Astor, winner of the 2014 Michigan Writers Cooperative Press chapbook contest for his poetry collection, “Bitter Dagaa.”

“The title of that was derived from some of my experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer,” said Astor, 50. “The Dagaa is a small fish and a staple crop of the region in Tanzania where I was a physics teacher from 1993 to 1995.”

The collection of more than 20 poems — some dealing with aspects of the war in Rwanda, northwest of Tanzania — will be published in June and launched June 16 at the Interlochen Arts Academy Writer’s House. It will be available at Michigan Writers workshops and local bookstores.

The chapbook contest is held annually to help emerging writers publish their first book in a literary genre. The contest is open to the 286 members of Traverse City-based Michigan Writers, Inc.

This year’s contest drew 16 entries in poetry, fiction and nonfiction, said contest coordinator Jen Kirkpatrick Johnson. Entries were judged in two rounds, the final round by Henry Gordon, professor and director of creative writing at Michigan State University and an Anishinabe poet and novelist.

“Especially in poetry it was very competitive,” Johnson said. “When they passed on the final pieces, I think the judges were all similarly aligned with regard to the top two competitors. I do remember one judge saying any other year our second competitor would have won.”

Astor grew up in Pentwater and graduated from MSU before volunteering with the Peace Corps. Now he lives in Traverse City and works as an information technology professional with the nonprofit Land Information Access Association.

“IT guys with mechanical engineering degrees aren’t primarily known for writing poetry,” said Astor, who is married and has two children. “But I’ve been keeping journals for 30 years. It’s another aspect of myself, I guess.”

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