Senior wins prestigious poetry contest

by Cathy Wu | 5/3/06 5:00am

Jessica Spradling '06 rose above five contestants last Saturday to win the 83rd Katherine Irene Glascock Intercollegiate Poetry Competition at Mount Holyoke College. Spradling, an English major, is the first Dartmouth student to win the contest, which is the oldest intercollegiate poetry competition.

"It's really exciting," Spradling said of her win. "I mean, several Dartmouth students have gone in the past ... It must have been very hard for the judges. We were coming from different places and had different ideas about writing."

Former contestants in the competition, which is judged by published poets, have gone on to become famous poets and writers.

"There is no other prize like this in the country," said renowned poet Mary Salter, who is also a lecturer in Mount Holyoke's English department and helped organized the competition.

Salter points to Spradling's "consistent level of excellence" as one of the reasons for her win, noting that she read her poems after the competition finished.

"I felt that she had a very interesting approach to history and memory," Salter said.

Spradling said memories and other poetic works serve as the inspiration for her work. She praised the attention she received from noted poet-professors in Dartmouth's writing program, adding that she hoped her win would attract more students to join the writing department.

"I think that what we lack for a huge department we make up with personal attention," Spradling said. "The more recognition the writing department gets, the more students will get interested in it."

The list of former Glascock winners includes famous poets such as James Merrill and Sylvia Plath. Salter was quick to point out the high caliber of the participants of the competition, noting that great poets have both won and lost the contest.

"There are very few opportunities for undergraduates to read in a public setting and to be listened to by published poets," Salter said. "There's that and of course the longer a contest goes on the longer the illustrious list of contestants that go along with it."

Because of limited funding for the competition, only six schools are invited to enter the competition. Salter said Mount Holyoke and at least one other local college attend the competition, and two to four Ivy League schools and smaller elite liberal arts colleges are invited.

According to Salter, the limited number of participants allows for more contact between contestants and judges but can also result in the exclusion of deserving candidates. The rotating schedule of invited schools means that Dartmouth will not send a candidate to the competition for another six to seven years.

"Each school can only submit one person. Which I think is too bad," Spradling said.

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