By Jake Knight
Whatcom Community College’s library is inviting current and former students and faculty to write and submit poems for the Eighth Annual Kumquat Poetry Challenge. All poems are welcome, but there is a catch: every poem must contain the 10 words selected by the library staff each year. The words this year are: carry, fall, hold, key, quick, reflect, shade, tear, yield and zone.
“The idea behind it is that we would have to provide the words and people would have to put them into poems. So everyone would be dealing with the same words, and then they could add any words of their own, of course, and make it short or long. Then we would judge them,” said Whatcom librarian Sally Sheedy.
The poetry submissions they receive are “uniformly very good, some of it’s excellent. There’s nothing really horrible. Some people dash it off and they strive for a little humor, and that works too. I don’t think anyone has dashed off a crappy poem,” said Sheedy.
“The point of it is creativity. We want students to experience writing” and start thinking more creatively, Sheedy said.
“I decided to do the Kumquat Challenge because I enjoy writing,” said Whatcom student Eric Fiore. “I thought it would be really challenging to compete with my peers doing something I am passionate about.”
He added that he enjoys how difficult the challenge is. Having to include random, predetermined words proves to be tough, he said.
The library’s marketing committee, which runs the event and promotes library events such as Book Week and National Library Month, asks library faculty members to come up with 10 words that can be used in the poems, Sheedy said.
The committee then chooses the words based on difficulty and how many creative ways it can be used. Kumquat was one of the first 10 words the committee chose, which is why the contest is called the Kumquat Challenge.
Sheedy said the Kumquat Challenge began as an idea she had during a marketing committee meeting. The committee decided to use her idea to promote National Poetry Month in April.
The marketing committee does most of the work involved in the challenge. They promote it to the Whatcom community, receive poems, plan and run the publishing party, and put together the final book of poems for publishing. They do not judge the poems or publish the book themselves.
“Our only costs have to do with publishing the book, generally around $50,” said Linda Lambert, Whatcom’s library director.
To judge the poems the committee has a panel of judges, led by Ron Leatherbarrow, Whatcom’s vice president for instruction, who also teaches poetry at Whatcom.
Lambert said the judges read the submissions without knowing who wrote them to avoid bias. Poems written by non-students are judged separately from those written by students to keep the competition fair, Lambert said.
As the poems are being judged, members of the marketing committee work on the Kumquat Challenge poetry book, which is distributed and given to the contestants at the publishing party. Free copies are available for students and faculty at the front desk in the library.
The books are made with “fancy paper,” decorated with illustrations based off of the 10 words selected that year by the committee, Sheedy said. They try to publish copies of the winning pieces as close to the original submission as possible to respect the authors and
about 50 poems are submitted each year, she added.
Every May, the marketing committee holds a publishing party in the Black Box Theater at Whatcom’s Syre Student Center. This year the party will be held May 21 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The authors of the top three poems are invited to read their work on stage, and other winners are then able to do the same.
Sheedy said generally 35 to 45 people come to the publishing party each year and it is open to the public.
Other performances are often part of the event, and past examples have included a poetry reading by local poet James Bertolini, and an improvisational comedy performance by comedian Nathan Cox.
Lambert said that the committee is coming up with new ideas to improve the Kumquat Challenge, such as publishing the poems online and moving the publishing party to a larger location on campus.
Submissions must be emailed to email@example.com by 11:59 p.m., Wed. April 30. Contestants who place in the top three win cookies, brownies, or scones baked by Lambert.