The Rapidian

Dyer-Ives Competition looks to foster local poets

The contest is seeking out poems from all Kent County residents, from kindergarten students to adults, and is giving out cash prizes to winners.

Submission Information

Mark Doty is the judge for this year's competition.

Mark Doty is the judge for this year's competition. /Dyer-Ives Foundation

Some specifications for the contest.

Some specifications for the contest. /Dyer-Ives Foundation

The Dyer-Ives Kent County Poetry Competition is looking for poetry from Grand Rapidians young and old, and wants to help increase the visibility of poetry in Kent County.

The contest's mission is to encourage excellence in writing and provide recognition for local work of high quality. It invites residents of all levels of experience to submit to the contest.

"The smaller contest is a little bit of a safe place, but it also has some wonderful recognition," Poetry Program Coordinator Christine Stephens says. "I won the contest myself 21 years ago, and so I can speak from experience that that was a wonderful thing that I felt like my community accepted me and appreciated me and my work."

The contest also works to foster enjoyment of poetry in the youngest members of the Grand Rapids community.

"The children's category is always my favorite from year to year," Stephens says. "The poems that come in are precious. I wish every single one of them could win."

Working poet Mark Doty is this year's judge. Doty has published eight books of poetry and five nonfiction books, and has won such honors as the National Book Critics Circle Award and the T.S. Eliot Prize. Before making their way to Doty, entries will be read and narrowed down by local teachers, professors, and poets of note.

"[I look for] language that kicks at the feelings,” Doty says. He looks for images that “makes that it shine." Doty also says poems are "not just pretty. Poems are experiences."

Stephens advises that reading poetry is one of the best ways to learn to write it.

"[You should not] just find what other people consider good poetry, but what moves you," says Stephens. "Then you'll have that language inside you."

The competition accepts entries in three different divisions. The divisions are kindergarten thorugh eighth grade, high school through undergradute, and graduate through adult. Prizes range from $50-$150 through the different divisions. Submissions close March 1.

The winning poets will be published in Voices, a small book designed by local firm People Design. They will also read at the annual Festival of the Arts downtown in June.

The competition is in its 47th year. It was initiated in 1968 by the poet James Allen at the urging of John Hunting, the founder of the Dyer-Ives Foundation. It has a long history, and previous national judges include prestigious names like Gwendolyn Brooks, Anne Sexton, Naomi Shihab Nye, Billy Collins and Jimmy Santiago Baca.

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