Enter Now for the Teen Poetry Contest at the Arkansas Literary Festival

Our annual Teen Poetry Contest has been a part of the Arkansas Literary Festival for years. Anyone who has seen the contest can tell you that watching the young writers present their work is memorable. The creativity, courage, and talent on display never fail to make an impression on the audience.

What to expect when you enter

All the teens gather at Main Library to perform their poems, whether the poems are traditional written pieces or part of the special genre called “Spoken Word.” This year, there’s even a third category for poetry that is combined with visual art of some kind, and for that category, the artists won’t have to read their works aloud.

Poetry gives teens the chance to use pure imagination without any limits. Healthy creative events like this one also offer teens a no-judgment zone that is hard to find in today’s world. Teens need to learn to affirm themselves and others, and groups that encourage self-expression and positive community can be vital, especially for those teens who are secretly writing in their journals at night and would love to find kindred spirits.

For complete guidelines and categories, see teen poetry contest instructions on our website.

Previous teen poets had fun sharing work with other creative teens

Though the contest is a fun aspect of the event and is judged by professionals, the focus of the staff and participants is more on sharing an artistic experience and celebrating creativity.

Some of our teen participants from previous contests recently commented on why they have enjoyed the experience.

“I love participating in the poetry contest because it gives me an opportunity to interact with other poets and hear what they have written,” said Hannah Burrus.  “It also gives me inspiration for my own poetry.”

Jamee McAdoo also enjoys the group creativity that surrounds the event.  “Contests like these are so fun because you meet other young poets from all over the state you wouldn’t have met anywhere else.”

Katherine O’Bryan, CALS Programmer and a poet herself, is coordinating the event this year. She is passionate about the benefits of poetry for teens and hopes to attract as many as possible to submit their poetry and have fun.

Writing helps teens develop imagination, process emotions

“I want to bring in as many people as possible. Poetry is such a wide subject! Anyone can do this,” O’Bryan said. “Different kinds of poetry don’t have to rhyme or have any rules. Some kinds of poetry may mix art and words. Anyone can find a kind that feels right for them.”

O’Bryan thinks that poetry fulfills a crucial developmental role for teens. “Writing helps teenagers work through feelings,” she said. “Things happen to teens, and sometimes those things aren’t good, and sometimes they’re just parts of life that are harder to process. Writing gives them license to think about what happened, and some choice about how they will remember it, whether the event is positive or negative. They get to ask ‘what am I feeling and why, and is it ok?’”

Brooke Elliott, another teen participant who first entered as an 8th grader, agrees. “I think writing is the perfect outlet for teenagers. It’s an emotional release and it creates something new and valuable.”

Teens benefit from an event where they know that every perspective is heard with attention and respect.

Self-expression in a positive, inclusive setting

“Poetry is important because young people have so many ways to express themselves today, but poetry is a way for them to say something that they know will be heard,” O’Bryan said. “If you have something to say, this is your chance.”

That chance for self-expression is why Norel McAdoo enjoys poetry events. “I love to write so I can share my stories with the world,” he said.

Branches around the library system will be offering events where beginning or experienced teen poets can experiment and write with the guidance and help of a moderator. But teen poets are also welcome to submit directly to the contest, if they can’t attend a branch event.

To submit, email teenpoetrycontest@cals.org by Monday, April 15 at 6:00 p.m. Please remember when submitting by email that all entries must have a signed entry form from a parent or guardian, is the student is a minor.

All entries will be considered for inclusion in the live contest to be held at the Arkansas Literary Festival on Saturday, April 27.  This year’s setting, the new Nexus Nook coffee shop at Main Library, will be a hip and relaxed venue for the readings and performances.

Poetry can also be submitted in person or by snail mail, by any writer age 12 to 19, with a signed form from parents for minors.

In person: Main Library, fourth floor, circulation desk, or at any branch library. All entries must include an entry form.

By mail: Katherine O’Bryan c/o Level 4, 100 Rock Street, Little Rock, AR 72201. All entries must include an entry form.

For more, see complete guidelines here.

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