The University of Rhode Island’s English department is offering an opportunity for undergraduate students to submit their writing through “The Caged Bird Sings” poetry contest.
The contest requires students to write a 14-line poem about making, inventing, naming or creating. Undergraduate students can earn $1000 for first place or $500 for second place. Faculty can also apply and potentially earn $500 for first place and $250 for second place.
Afua “Rachel” Ansong, an English graduate student, is responsible for organizing the contest. Ansong is a poet herself and hopes to promote poem writing at URI.
“We want to give attention to poetry,” Ansong said. “Poetry is so valuable in so many ways. It allows people to communicate with each other, to think through their problems and express themselves. It’s a great outlet that not a lot of people are tapping into. I’m just trying to remind people poetry is here and you can win money in trying to express yourself or question things.”
Ansong is originally from Guyana, located on South America’s northern coast. When she moved to the United States, she used poetry to cope with being away from her home.
“I think that there’s healing in making poetry,” Ansong said. “If you just take it in, read it and get connected to it, you can get healing. So maybe this is a chance for me to tell people that they can be healed, brain and soul.”
Ansong originally planned for the prompt to be about what cages people and what makes them sing, which is how the contest got its name. The prompt ended up changing to broaden the range of potential writing topics.
“We want it to reach all sorts of people,” Ansong said. “The actual meaning of poetry is to make or to create. So when you’re writing poetry, you’re making something. We’re asking, ‘what is your understanding of making something and what is your understanding of creating something?’”
The competition will be judged by a group of English graduate students. According to Ansong, there is not a strict set of criteria, but the group will know when they have read a good poem. Ansong did say, however, that the group will be looking for poems that build off of the topic and explore other related topics.
Travis Williams, the English department chair, said that the department is holding six contests currently, but this is the largest one. This is the largest because the department is collaborating with the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
“When the dean was asking us what we can do for national poetry month, we saw an opportunity to get our graduates and associates to work on a project like this with our resources and the dean’s support,” Williams said. “Hence you have what you see, which is a pretty major event with a very prominent guest speaker, chances for people to create and talk about things that are already created. It’s all about community building and reminding the public about what the humanities are and how they can benefit from them.”
Williams said that he hopes this becomes an annual event at URI since poetry month is important to celebrate at a university-level.
Winners will be announced at “The Caged Bird Sings” Festival reading on April 23. Students will be able to read their poems with Professor Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, who is also a poet.
Students can submit poems to the committee until March 20 via email.