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'We are all humans' - Youth poets encourage other youngsters to enter upcoming poetry contest

Aaron Burden/ Unsplash.com

A northern Illinois literary magazine is looking for youth poets to take part in an upcoming contest. Two past winners of this award shared their experience.

This is the third contest for Rockford Review’s Youth Poetry Awards.

Sally Hewitt, the president of the Rockford Writers' Guild and the editor of the Rockford Review, said a person in the community, who wishes to remain anonymous, started the awards.

“A donor, a member contacted me and said that she believes the future of poetry is in the youth of today,” Hewitt explained. “And so, she wanted to donate money to start this award.”

The donor, who donated $100 for this year’s awards, wasn’t comfortable with a radio interview, but did communicate through email. She stated that she’s from a generation that will be passing on and she wants to ensure young writers keep the poetry fire burning.

Rockford Review
Screenshot of Mike Rock's award winning poem.

This contest did ignite a flame for one young man. Mike Rock,17, said he never even thought about writing poetry until he was forced to stay home due to the onset of the pandemic.

“And as this poetry contest came up, I looked back at the time in quarantine, when I kind of got more interested in poetry,” he recalled. “And that's what I wrote my poem about, mainly, was quarantine itself.”

Here’s a few lines from his 2021 award-winning work.

Radio, television, neighbors, family - it's running blind.

The virus infects the body

and fear infects the mind.

home and school blur as reality increasingly spirals inward,

sucking up air

Rock said that while the contest made him delve into writing poetry a little more, he isn’t ready to take on the title of poet just yet.

“If I keep getting more awards, and maybe I consider calling myself a poet,” he said, “but I don't think I deserve that title now.”

Faith Jones,18, won the Rockford Review’s Youth Poetry Award in the fall of 2020. She’s no stranger to poetry. Jones started writing stanzas when she was 7 years old.

“Writing for me has always been a very personal thing,” she explained. “It's always been a reaction or a response, especially too as I've grown as a person and what's happened to me, being able to process it, learn and grow from it.”

Her poem that won an award was called “The Sentiment of a Moment.” Here’s a portion of the poem.

The sentiment of a moment is never lost

Like an ancient book, it retreats in the shadows of our minds, until a dusty figure sweeps through the library and picks up the well-loved volume,

Reliving those golden moments of purple sunsets on the back porch of laughter and cherry flavored kisses of sundresses and brightly colored balloons

Jones explained that being a part of the contest helped her want to share her works with others, which isn’t something she was used to doing. She is encouraging other young poets to dare being vulnerable to comparison as well.

Screenshot of the poem written by Faith Jones.
Rockford Review
Screenshot of the poem written by Faith Jones.

“Because you'll find that the things you feel, they're not isolated feelings, we all are humans, and we all express ourselves in different ways,” she said. “And reading, even just reading through the other entries and the other winners, I can identify with their words.”

Jones shared how she remembered hearing Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb.” She said she was used to writing her poetry in a certain style but hearing the way Gorman’s words flowed made her explore other poetry forms.

Rock said his story should be an example to those who don’t feel like their work is good enough to submit.

“I feel like the key is confidence. You know, don't doubt yourself, especially if I was able to get this award,” he said. “And I never thought I would. If you doubt yourself, and you never end up submitting anything, then you won't know what you're actually capable of.”

Rock is a fan of former Canadian hockey player Wayne Gretzky. He cited something Gretzky said which is “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Hewitt said the judges usually make their decisions based on how the poem resonates with them.

“It's just an intuitive feeling about the poem itself,” she said. “No, I can't explain. It's the passion that goes into it, the heart that comes through.”

“We always try to be fair in our judging. Names are removed before the poem is sent to the judge,” stated one of the upcoming judges. “Back in the day when I was editing, I did not read the bios until after I had decided about the poem itself. And so, I hope you will understand when I say we prefer to keep our judges anonymous.”

The theme for this year’s awards is “Tomorrow” and poems should be 50 lines or less. Up to five works can be entered but should be put into one document.

There are two categories: youth ages 13 to 18 and those under 13. The winning poets will receive prize money. The exact amounts haven’t been determined yet. The winning works will be published in the 2022 Summer-Fall edition of the Rockford Review. Submissions are due by May 15. They can be entered at the Rockford Writers Guildwebsite.

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.
Yvonne covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This could include how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities. Boose is a recent graduate of the Illinois Media School and returns to journalism after a career in the corporate world.