This was not how Kiley Malloy imagined her final days at Council Rock South.
For starters, instead of celebrating graduation with her peers and favorite teachers on June 15, Malloy will mark the milestone while watching a virtual ceremony from the comfort of her couch.
But it hasn’t been all bad.
After two years being named “runner-up” in Bucks County Community College’s High School Poet of the Year contest, it was recently announced that Malloy finished in first place for 2020.
“To finally win, it was exciting,” Malloy told The Times. “I know it felt right. I worked really, really hard on my craft and my writing, and so I was thrilled to be recognized.”
Malloy rose to the top of more than 80 entries in the 33rd annual contest, part of the Bucks County Poet Laureate Program administered by the college, and won $300. The three poems she submitted were When You Take Me for a Ghost, Apology (Prose Poem) and For Allen Ginsberg.
Each poem was judged by current Bucks County Poet Laureate Mary Jo LoBello Jerome and last year’s laureate, Carly Volpe. Jerome praised Malloy’s work, calling it “a joy to read” with “so many artful and surprising nuances.”
“The poet demonstrates a real gift, a true talent, by choosing the details that add interest and surprise, moving the imagery forward and creating depth, and treating the subjects thoughtfully and creatively,” Jerome said. “The poems are tight – well-crafted and strong.”
While the contest usually concludes with a large-scale event at the college’s Newtown campus, during which the winner and runners-up read their work to attendees, changes had to be made this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Saturday, May 23, Malloy had the honor of reading her poems in a special virtual celebration, which was live streamed on the college’s YouTube channel.
“It was really nice being able to read because that’s the part that I like most, being able to share,” she said. “Something happens when you take the writing on the page and speak it out loud. It adds another dimension and feeling to the idea behind the poem.”
Joining Malloy was George School freshman Rhianna Searle (first runner-up), Neshaminy High School senior Nathalie Hernandez (second runner-up) and Council Rock South senior Jessica Wang (third runner-up).
As Malloy prepares to virtually say “goodbye” to Council Rock next week, she’s looking back on the last four years with pride. Not only was she a member of the school’s marching band, she served as copy editor for its literary magazine Illuminations.
“I liked that the magazine was a reflection of our school community,” she said. “A lot of the pieces were about the high school experience, and I just thought that was cool. I was grateful that I got to see so many students’ work and be able to edit it and be a part of a publication like that.”
Initially, Malloy didn’t set out to be a writer. In fact, she dedicated 13 years to dancing. But when she suffered a stress fracture on her back, she was forced to shift gears.
“That’s when I started to fall into writing. I had the time and I had the ideas,” she said. “When you read a lot of good work, you tend to start writing better work.”
So what’s next for the 2020 Poet of the Year? Malloy is heading to the Big Apple in the fall to study English and French at Barnard College – a private women’s liberal arts school that’s associated with Columbia University.
“I think that being in New York City is really the place for an artist to be. I’m excited because that’s where the writers are, for the most part – in these major cities,” she said. “New York City is really the center of culture, so that’s going to help me in finding other writers, finding mentors and finding places to share through my writing.”
A fast-paced city will surely be a stark contrast to the tranquility of Bucks County. But Malloy is confident about her future.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said. “As long as I’m writing, I’ll be OK.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org