Kassi Luja

It’s the opportunity to win a grand prize with stanzas full of color and creativity bursting off the page. But the clock is ticking.

The Academy of American Poets contest is now accepting submissions from all registered Cal Poly students.

“The Academy of American Poets is a national organization which advocates on behalf of poetry as an art form,” contest director and English professor Kevin Clark said.

Clark said the Academy has a relationship with colleges all over the United States and has been at Cal Poly for approximately 20 years.

English lecturer Lisa Coffman said Cal Poly is lucky to have the contest on campus.

“The Academy is one of the foremost representatives of poetry in this country, and so having a contest like this at this school is just a tremendous opportunity,” Coffman said.

Typically, off-campus judges are chosen as a way of being objective. Last year, however, English lecturer Leslie St. John was chosen as the judge and selected English senior Jesseca Zwicker as the winner.

“I enjoyed seeing the range of writing from the poets and then picking what I (felt) was maybe the most complete or most accomplished poem,” St. John said. “I love reading work and feeling like, ‘I wish I had written that’ and it’s really impressive when you get to do that when you see undergraduate writing that you’re struck by. So, mostly the contest was fun to judge because I was exposed to the writing here at Poly and also because it was inspirational to me.”

Zwicker submitted poetry for the contest for the first time last year.

“I was really excited,” Zwicker said about finding out she was the 2012 winner. “I got a phone call and I couldn’t believe it. I was really happy.”

Zwicker urges students to submit poetry for the contest.

“It’s a good opportunity,” she said.

English senior Cate Harkins has already submitted three poems for the contest this year.

Though she didn’t participate in prior years, Harkins felt there were “a lot of things in line” this year.

“I would recommend anybody who’s writing poetry or even people who have never written poetry (to) submit to the contest,” Harkins said. “It’s a really good way to get recognition on campus.”

The contest enables students to showcase their poetic artistry with hopes of winning the first-place prize of $100. Many previous winners have even gone on to prestigious graduate schools, Clark said.

“This can help them get in,” Clark said. “It looks good on a résumé or cover letter or application. It’s a nice feather in your cap.”

Coffman encourages students to enter the contest even if they don’t feel their poems are adequate.

“If you submit your work and you don’t place, it actually isn’t any kind of judgement about your work because the history of literature is just jammed with writers who didn’t get noticed at the time by the leading quote experts of the day because they were doing something truly new, truly different,” Coffman said. “So there just weren’t ways to measure it or understand it or appreciate it yet.”

Coffman sees submitting to the contest as a triumph itself.

“If you get something, amazing,” she said. “If you don’t get something, it’s still an achievement to have made the step to submit it and it just means you haven’t put it under the right set of eyes yet.”

Students are to submit three poems or fewer totaling no more than 150 lines. The winner will receive $100. Poems can be emailed to English@calpoly.edu with “Academy of American Poets Contest Entry” as the subject. The deadline is May 3 at 4 p.m.

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