With each springtime at KET comes a literary flowering: dozens and dozens of poems for the KET Young Writers Contest. Each year KET invites three distinguished poets to judge the finalists in this category. And each year, the poets are impressed.
“What a tough job to judge these poems!” said Leatha Kendrick of Lexington, a poet and one of the three judges. “I was impressed with the depth of thought, the courage, and the strong voices of so many of these poets. Each of these poets deserves the recognition you are giving their work with this contest.”
The 2021 KET Young Writers Contest invited Kentucky students to submit illustrated stories, short stories, and poetry. The poetry contest was open to students in grades 4-12. A total of 172 poems were submitted — almost a third of the 563 total contest entries.
Entries were scored based on rubrics developed for each category. Poems for the contest had to be between 25 and 250 words.
All entries in the Young Writers Contest are judged by KET education consultants, who also partner with Dr. Nancy Hulan and her literacy education students at Western Kentucky University for the judging.
“It’s an excellent opportunity for them to put into practice the skills they are perfecting in their education, as well as allowing them to interact with real student writing in a practical context,” said KET education consultant Amy Grant.
The top scoring pieces were sent to this year’s invited poets for review and final selection.
The poets judging this year were Vivé Griffith, Leatha Kendrick, and Adrienne Su.
Griffith (Weeks in This Country) is an Austin, Texas-based writer and educator. Kendrick (And Luckier, Second Opinion) is the author of five poetry collections. Adrienne Su (Peach State, Living Quarters) of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, is the author of five books of poems and chair of the creative writing department at Dickinson College.
Judging the poetry contest is an enjoyable, if difficult, task for the poets.
“I got to spend some time with poetry today, which was a lovely thing,” said Griffith. “I enjoyed encountering these poems, especially because some of them made me gasp in surprise in their closing lines or laugh to myself at their humor. In each case, it wasn’t easy narrowing it down to three.”
Poems are judged in four categories: originality, creative expression, overall impact, and grammar, usage and mechanics. As in years past, the judges came away impressed.
“The poems I ended up ranking the highest were, in general, those with qualities I value in poetry: vivid images, musicality, and compression,” said Kendrick. “I also recognized poems driven by the urgency and bravery of the poet’s voice.”
In a tumultuous year in history, young poets had a lot to say.
“This [middle school] was the most difficult category to rank because of the very high quality of the writing and the courage and maturity of the young writers’ vision,” said Kendrick. “These poets confronted issues of identity and justice with honesty and immediacy. In the end I chose those whose images stayed with me — the ones I couldn’t forget.”
Winning entries for poetry, illustrated short stories, and short stories are published online.