By Elisa Espinoza
The Whatcom Community College Library carried out and sponsored the 13th edition of the Kumquat Poetry Challenge in celebration of the National Poetry Month held every April.
Current and former students, faculty, and staff participated in this challenge, which consisted of writing a poem that must include 10 specific words.
This year’s words were: open, ardent, yearn, shimmer, keen, hour, mingle, intent, quarter and just.
The challenge has the purpose of encouraging students in poetry, but it also represents a way of making the community aware of the library as well as increasing engagement.
The first edition of the challenge took place in 2007, and the word “kumquat” was included on the list, giving birth to the challenge’s name. This also initiated the tradition of including a word that starts with a K every year.
This year there were 12 participants, and the judging panel was conformed by Anna Wolff and Brian Cope, members of the English faculty, Humanities faculty member Ben Kohn, World Languages department chair Anne George as well as last year’s challenge winner Betty Scott.
The challenge has been led by Ara Taylor since 2016. She is the program coordinator and manager of textbook collections for various Whatcom programs as well as the course reserves collection in the library.
Taylor explained the way the challenge is carried out. To pick the 10 words, she asks staff to submit random words. “Sometimes I get up to a hundred words,” she said.
The staff also helps her narrow down the words and to make the final decision of the 10 official words.
For the judging process, Taylor said “the poems are submitted to our judges with no names attached.” She added that it is “vital” that the judge’s decision is unbiased.
Every year different judges are invited to avoid favoring the same kind of poems, said Taylor.
To collect the poems, the participants submit their work through an email that’s set up for the challenge and Taylor is in charge of responding to them.
“I ask them if they feel comfortable with their poem, if I can print it and if they want their name attached,” she said.
Each year an anthology including all the poems and some illustrations is published. Ara is also the editor of the book and the printing is done by Whatcom copy center staff.
Contest judge and French instructor Anne George issued the challenge to her students, so this year’s book includes George’s class poems written in French next to their translations in English.
Last year the challenge had a special edition, in which an English as a Second Language instructor set up writing a poem for the challenge as an assignment for her students.
“A lot of these students were just learning English and they managed to make beautiful poems,” said Taylor.
“We’re hoping that next year we can expand it to maybe the Spanish instructors and other language instructors,” she added.
The challenge also hosts an event every year called the Kumquat Challenge Awards. This year, the event was celebrated on April 29th in Syre’s Black Box Theater, where the judges shared their thoughts on this year’s challenge, the winners were announced and the writers were also welcomed to read their poems.
This year’s winners under the category of students were Kristen Dietz in 1st place, Rem Naughton 2nd place and Mariia Neguliaeva 3rd place.
Winners under the category of community were Sally Sheedy 1st place, Alana Erickson 2nd place and J.S. Nahani 3rd place.
Alana Erickson also won second place last year as a student.
Erickson works as a tutor for the writing center and she’s also a former student. She transferred to Western Washington University where she’s currently getting her degree on English with an emphasis on creative writing.
Erickson decided to participate on the challenge because poetry and challenges are two things she really enjoys, she said.
Erickson said she didn’t spend much time writing the poems. Last year she wrote her poem during a quiet writing center shift at the library, “I just decide it to do it” she said.
Erickson heard the challenge was happening again and she decide it to participate. “I did it last year and I enjoyed it so I might as well do it this year,’’ she said.
Erickson said she likes working with words and explained how she managed to make up a poem out of the 10 words. “I to look at the definitions if I don’t know what they mean already and think of all the different scenarios I would use them in,” she said.
“I pick one of those words to focus on, or a line I really like and then I work from there,” she added.
Erickson said that it feels great to see her work in print but her work is never finished. “I always feel like there are ways in which I can improve my writing even after it’s published,” she said, and added that she would like to keep printing her writing.
This experience has encouraged Erickson to learn more about the publishing field.
“I want to know how their process works and how they make their creative decisions,” she said.
Erickson explained there are a lot of things she would like to do in the future, including being an English professor. “On the side I would like to publish poetry and nonfiction,” she said.
Erickson would like to see more people contributing and having more ways for poets to show their work.
“I think it would be cool to explore themes too so you could have themes to choose from,” she said, and added that she would also like to see the anthology’s design change each year.
As written in this year’s anthology, the challenge has created a sort of “Kumquat Family,” and they’re looking forward to uniting even more people, said Taylor.
“We have people that have taken classes here ten years ago or faculty that retired years ago that submit their poems every year,” she added.
Taylor believes the challenge is a very positive experience for the students. “A lot of these students submit their poems and when they find out that they’ve won, it almost becomes, like, life-changing.”
Taylor stressed her appreciation for the Kumquat Challenge.
“I’d like it to continue, as long as I’m here it will continue,” and “I hope it becomes part of the library tradition,” she said.