Local poetry competition celebrates 50 years

Updated: 2/15/2018, 8:00 a.m.

Drawing entries from all ages of Kent County residents, the Dyer-Ives Poetry Competition is celebrating its 50th year. The annual competition runs from Feb. 1 to Mar. 1 and is open to Kent County residents and students. One poem is accepted per person, and each poem must be original and unpublished. The winners are given cash prizes, a public reading during the Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts in the summer and publication in the Grand Rapids poetry journal “Voices.”

Azizi Jasper is the 2018 judge for the poetry competition. Hailing from Grand Rapids, Jasper works as a poet, social justice advocate, social worker and political organizer, to name a few of his titles. Jasper is the founder of several spoken-word open mics in Michigan and is a founding member of a poetry collective called The Diatribe. He hosts weekly open mics mainly in Detroit and is working on 2018 projects that include a chapbook as well as an album.

Jasper is honored to be apart of the Dyer-Ives tradition and is astutely aware of the responsibility it carries:

“I respect competition in most things,” said Jasper, “but the subjective nature of art makes judging it counterintuitive in my opinion. I’m honored to judge this competition but am conflicted as I read so many diverse truths, having to pick ‘the best.’ They’re all special, they’re all someone’s personal truth.”

The contest is open to all ages and has three divisions: kindergarten through eighth grade, high school through college undergraduates and graduate students through adults. The winners of the first two divisions are often first-time poets.

The third division that focuses on adults is the most competitive of the three divisions. The heightened competition stems from many local poets vying for first place and garnering more local recognition for their craft. Furthermore, it covers a much larger age group than the other two divisions.

The competition has no entry fee but it does distribute cash prizes. The prizes for the first division are $100 for first place, $75 for second and $50 for third. The second division awards $125 for first place, $100 for second and $75 for third. The third division awards $150 for first place, $125 for second and $100 for third.

The contest, which had over 400 entries last year, will further celebrate its 50th anniversary in June, hosted by the Dyer-Ives Foundation. All past competition winners are welcome to attend the special celebration.

Founded in 1968 by poet James Allen, the competition was run by the Dyer-Ives Foundation for 48 years. The Grand Rapids Public Library has taken over the competition organization the past two years.

Christine Kreiger, the coordinator of the poetry competition, shared that the competition tends to attract lots of free verse rather than formatted, or rhymed, poetry. However, she stressed that, no matter the form, “Shorter imagistic poems with fresh language, concrete and specific details, an authentic voice and depth of feeling all can go a long way in making a powerful poem.”

Lew Klatt, Calvin professor and Grand Rapids poet laureate from 2013 to 2017, encouraged Calvin students to submit as well.

“Even if the student doesn’t win,” said Klatt, “The experience would be valuable. Something about competition raises the stakes and may help the student to concentrate their creative efforts and revise their work with publication in mind.”

Beyond this, Klatt believes that the Dyer-Ives Poetry Competition helps strengthen the poetry scene of Kent County, and more specifically, of Grand Rapids.

“I think the poetry community of Grand Rapids is growing,” said Klatt. “Besides beefed-up creative writing programs at just about every local college, there is a great spoken word tradition in this city.”