LDS professor wins poetry contest with 'Night at the Movies'

A lonely night at the movies may not be so bad after all—especially if you get national recognition for writing about it.

Brigham Young University-Idaho professor Michael Tatum was named Idaho Senior Poet Laureate for a collection of 20 poems, the featured title being “Tuesday Night at the Movies.” The poem is written in the voice of a solo individual observing many couples enjoying themselves at a movie theatre. Though simple in scope, the poem touches on how loneliness can take many forms and helps readers feel sympathy for the subject’s situation.

A professor of sociology at BYU-Idaho, 63-year-old Tatum submitted 20 poems in the national Senior Poet Laureate Poetry Competition and was selected as Idaho’s winner. In a university press release, Tatum said his inspiration came when he lived in Micronesia alone for a month and a half. “I was president of the college system there, and my family was already back in the states,” Tatum said. “I would go to the movies once or twice a week. I was alone, and I guess I was lonely.”

Tatum was “humbled by the honor and not expecting an award,” and he “uses daily poetry entries much like a journal.”

Tatum wrote poetry on and off in high school, but started writing regularly when he met his wife. “She has been my inspiration, beyond belief.”

Tatum’s poems cover subjects from romance to shoveling snow. A teacher of 30 years, with some of that time spent in Micronesia as the president of that nation’s college and university system, Tatum draws his poetry from experiences in his life, such as teaching, travel and even sacrament meetings. The professor counted 1500 to 1600 completed poems in his works, with another 400 to 500 still in progress. 

“It’s been fun,” Tatum said. “It brings back memories on things I otherwise would have forgotten.”

Tatum’s recent success is a new feeling for him. Throughout the years, he has had about six poems published and placed in anthologies through The Writer’s Almanac newsletter and the accompanying “A Prairie Home Companion” weekend radio show.

His rise to the spotlight came when he saw an ad in the local paper about the Senior Poet Laureate submissions.

“I didn’t think it was a competition. Now there are newspapers calling me and Barnes and Noble has asked me to do a reading in their Idaho Falls store.”

Tatum plans to retire in a few years and said he’ll continue writing. He has plans for publishing a collection of his works and is even beginning a novel in his spare time.

Sponsored by the non-profit organization Amy Kitchener’s Angels Without Wings Foundation, The Senior Poets Laureate Poetry Competition is an annual poetry competition for U.S. citizens 50 years of age or older.


Walking home from the movies
On a rainy Tuesday night
Thinking about the movie
A romantic comedy
And how I sat on the back row
All alone
Watching people
Mostly the couples
As they watched the movie
Shared popcorn
Held hands and laughed together
And how all alone
On the back row
I laughed with them
Until I cried
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