Cal Poly’s Academy of American Poets Contest began accepting submissions Tuesday.
The Academy of American Poets is a national organization that promotes poetry writing for people of all ages.
English professor and published poet Kevin Clark, who coordinates the contest at Cal Poly each year, said the organization holds poetry contests at hundreds of universities across the country.
“The Academy of American Poets is an extremely important advocate for poetry in the United States,” Clark said. “It promotes all kinds of contests for young kids, for high school kids (and) for college-age (people). Plus, it promotes contests to get serious books published by older poets.”
Cal Poly’s annual contest, which started in the early ‘90s, is sponsored by the English department and awards $100 to a student chosen by a nationally published poet or critic acting as judge. The judge may also select up to two additional poems as honorable mentions.
The appointed judge is not affiliated with Cal Poly — in order to maintain anonymity among submitting poets — and is not identified until the contest is over, so entries cannot be tailored to appeal to him or her.
The contest offers a unique opportunity for students to have their work reviewed from an off-campus perspective.
Clark won the Academy of American Poets contest twice as a UC Davis student, and he said winning can be highly inspiring for a young writer.
“To have a judge or an editor choose your work and say your work is worthy is a highly pleasurable result of having a contest,” he said. “A number of the poets who have won this contest have gone on to prestigious (master of fine arts) programs in creative writing. But I think the first thing — for any poet — is an affirmation of his or her talent.”
English senior Kate Sugar, who won the contest last year, said recognition from an outside professional was crucial motivation for her as a poet.
“It affirmed that this is not only something I enjoy but something that I might be good at,” Sugar said. “It was at that moment I decided that this is something that I want to seriously consider doing in the future.”
Sugar said winning the Academy of American Poets Contest — her first writing competition — convinced her to apply to master of fine arts programs at universities across the country. In the fall, she will begin such a program for poetry at Columbia University.
She said the best advice she can offer this year’s applicants is to account for “avoidable” errors.
“The biggest mistake that someone can make is not proofreading,” Sugar said. “The first sign that a poet isn’t serious about their work is simple mistakes.”
Spelling and grammatical mishaps aside, judging poetry can be subjective.
English professor James Cushing, a published poet who has judged poetry contests in the past, said “no one knows” what makes for good poetry.
“I wouldn’t think of giving anyone advice,” he said. “I think it’s insulting to give people advice.”
He said he encourages students to submit, though.
“Grab your best poems and send them in,” Cushing said. “Maybe you’ll win.”
Submissions will be accepted until May 9 at 4 p.m. Students may submit a maximum of five poems, which should be placed in a manila envelope and delivered to the English Department in Faculty Offices North, room 32.