Ted Haaland

Photo by Mary Farrell


Ted Haaland founded the Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest in honor of his late wife.



What started as a local contest sponsored by Winona’s first poet laureate and the Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) has grown into an international phenomenon with a reach far beyond our community. In 2012, the contest was renamed for Maria W. Faust, whose love of the arts and untimely death inspired her husband to become a poet. Ted Haaland believed the best way he could honor Maria’s memory was to dedicate the contest to her and inspire poets around the world to explore the sonnet form.

For the first year under Ted’s directorship, the 2012 contest received 85 entries from all over the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Fifteen winners were selected, and the sonnets were read by actors from the GRSF at the closing ceremony. The contest has grown dramatically over the past 10 years. In 2022, 700 sonnets were received from 42 US states plus D.C. and 10 other countries—an increase of 15 percent over 2021. Entries in the youth category jumped 50 percent. Through the contest, poets around the world now know of Winona and our thriving arts community.

Planning is underway for the 2022 closing event which will be held on Saturday, July 30, at 11 a.m. at the Winona Arts Center. This will be a hybrid in-person/Zoom event which will allow winners to participate by reading their sonnets no matter where they are located. The public is invited to join us in this celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest.

The story of Ted finding poetry through loss inspires many poets to participate in the contest. He tells it like this, “Well into my early 60s, after a decade of my second marriage to the love of my life, Maria, ended with her tragic death, an amazing journey began. The very night she unexpectedly passed away, I awoke from sleep with a poem forming within me — the first I had ever composed. The occasion seemed to me to be almost magical, as if Maria had sent, in her passing, a muse. That very day I began to write poems, usually three or four each day, every day of the week.”

Connecting his muse to the sonnet contest, Ted continues, “I have always been drawn to rhyming and rhythm, or some variants of them, and this is clear in the nearly five thousand poems I have written to date. It is not surprising that I have often written in the sonnet form, and this, in turn, led me to envision our current sonnet contest, which draws entries from across the United States and several foreign countries every year.”

Appreciation for Ted and his contribution to the contest is best expressed by the judges and friends.

“Ted’s sponsorship of the Maria Faust Sonnet Contest makes Winona an international sonnet center. Poets who are challenged and inspired by the classical sonnet form now have a place to showcase their art. Thanks to Ted’s vision, area sonneteers — experts and novices alike — have the opportunity to attend poetry events, and young poets are being specifically encouraged to connect with the tradition. Ted has found an excellent way to spread his love of poetry and to help expand Winona’s reputation as an arts destination, and we are so grateful to him,” Jim Armstrong said.

“Ted Haaland knew too well how important honest and heartfelt words are. He had many for his beloved Maria and spent many hours honoring her with those he had crafted himself. He has been most generous in passing on to others, including the young, his sense that poetry is a vital sustainer of good life, especially in life's darkest times,” Emilio DeGrazia said.

“Ted Haaland is a generous-minded visionary. His love for his late wife, Maria, who was a passionate supporter of the arts, has moved him not only to write his own sonnets, but also to celebrate and encourage the creation of new poems in this versatile and powerful sonnet form by more than a thousand poets, people he has never personally met. By his unwavering support, he has created a truly living memorial, not just to Maria, but to the powerful comfort that love — and love of true, artfully rendered words —offers to us all,” Leslie Schultz said.

To learn more about the Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest, please visit sonnetcontest.org or email entries@sonnetcontest.org.