The 2011 Academy of American Poets contest for Cal Poly, sponsored by the English department, is now accepting original poetry submissions in honor of National Poetry Month.
The winning student poet will be awarded $100 and be published in Moebius, an annual publication of the College of Liberal Arts.
The Academy of American Poets is a national organization that promotes poetry. This contest has taken place at Cal Poly since about 1990. Last year, approximately 50 students from a broad range of majors submitted envelopes of work, each containing two to five poems.
English professor Kevin Clark said the winners are often later accepted into significant creative writing programs at the graduate level.
An off-campus, nationally published poet or critic is the judge of the submitted works and remains anonymous until he or she chooses the winning poet.
Clark, who is an award-winning and widely published poet, said this year’s judge is not only off-campus but also resides out of state.
“We do this to guarantee objectivity,” Clark said.
Ensuring the contest is as fair as possible is important for poetry because of the intuitively creative and abstract nature of the process.
English professor James Cushing said although he cannot speak for other poetry critics, he has never met anyone who violently disagrees with his thoughts on judging poetry.
Cushing was Poet Laureate of San Luis Obispo from 2008 to 2010. He also judged The Tribune’s poetry contest, Byzantium’s contest and many others.
“I look for something surprising, so it’s something you can’t define before it surprises you,” Cushing said.
He compared this idea to that of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Tate, who once said poetry is the search for the unknown.
“Emily Dickinson famously claimed that she knew she was reading real poetry when she felt as if the top of her head were coming off,” Cushing wrote in a piece for The Tribune. “I read poetry for a similar reason — the pure pleasure of discovering that the world I live in is richer in beauty and wonder than I thought it was.”
For Cushing, poetry is more meaningful than just words alone.
“I want to read words from a human being who is being human, so that I may become more fully human,” Cushing said.
Cushing said when he judges poetry, he reads through the submissions and automatically places any poetry with clichés, awkward phrasing, misspellings or grammatical errors in a “No” pile.
Last year, Carly Hanzlik won this contest with her poem entitled “We Take a Long Drive.” Her poem was about how human beings develop ways of perceiving reality. The judge described Hanzlik’s poem as surprising, with interesting imagery and strange turns.
Starting today, any student enrolled for spring quarter may submit no more than five poems to the Faculty Offices Building, room 32. The deadline is May 11 at 4 p.m. Works should be submitted in a manila envelope clearly labeled with the student’s real name.
Professor Carl Wooton, also a published writer and poet, said many students may be afraid to try poetry writing simply because they are unfamiliar with it.
“My advice is to read as much poetry as you can,” he said.
Wooton said the students who are often successful poets are the ones who are willing to make mistakes and take risks.
“You’ll never write really well until you are willing to write bad first,” Wooton said. “For some it may be a short period of time, but for others it may take a lifetime. But that doesn’t matter, as long as you try it.”