Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Contest winners this year are sophomore Juanita Asapokhai, junior Janvi Sikand, and senior Phoebe Taylor. The contest began in 1993 and every year for the past 25 years, three of the best poets in both the Upper and Middle School are recognized.
Gwendolyn Brooks was a Symposium writer who visited Kingswood Oxford in 1993. Since she was very impressed with the students, she donated money so each student could win a prize of fifty dollars based on poems they submit. Students from the Upper and Middle School can submit up to three poems each. The English department judges anonymously and chooses three of the best poems for both the US and MS.
English Department Chair Meg Kasprak said that this year the department received one to three poems from 20 poets, and there were about 40 to 50 poems in the US. “A good poem uses fresh language, an interesting title, a voice. It needs to be coherent, the ideas have to hang together, and it [deals] with something important and human experience,” she said.
Mrs. Kasprak said that a lot of the poems submitted this year dealt with a great range of experiences, some with nature, many with relationships and change, and some with tragedies. “A good poem is a good poem whether it is written by someone who is 15 or 50,” she said.
The contest was announced on April 10, and the submissions were due on April 21. Some students have also won for two or three years in a row. This is Juanita’s second time winning; she submitted three poems, and the winning one was called, “Vicissitude.” Juanita said the poem made several allusions to famous singers. In particular, it was comparing the definition of the word to the changes that happened in their lives. Juanita said that poetry comes to her by writing the first line and then filling in the rest. “I know a lot of really good writers on campus, so I feel lucky to be one of the winners,” she said. “I’m really happy, and it is really nice to be acknowledged for your effort and work.”
Janvi also submitted three poems and the one that won; she said she wrote on her phone, ten minutes before the deadline. She said that she was looking at lists of cool words and she found “benthos,” so she decided to write a poem around that. She said that there is no real meaning behind the poem; its purpose was to be dark and scary. Janvi said that this was her first time submitting for the contest, and she was proud of herself for winning and being recognized for her writing gave her confidence. “I like to write a lot, so I write my own poems, short stories and essays. I like having my work out there, so I have always wanted to submit, so this year I decided to submit no matter what,” she said.
Phoebe submitted three poems, and the winning one was called “The Last Time I’ll Say It.” “My inspiration for it was my response to the saying ‘my body is a temple’ and how people use that to explain why they take care of themselves or make the choices they make,” she said. “I’ve always kind of disliked that saying, and this poem was me articulating, sort of, why exactly I don’t like it.”
Phoebe said that she won the contest for the first time in the Middle School and had been hoping to win sometime in high school as well, so she’s very happy it worked out this year. She said that she had put more thought and effort into her submissions this year as compared to previous years, and she said that they sounded more mature. “I was very happy when Ms. Kasprak announced that I had won this year,” she said.