As a member of a Poetry Society of Tennessee chapter, I am also a member of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies (NFSPS). While normally I am not involved with federation activities, this spring I unexpectedly found myself giving and receiving in two capacities: as contest judge for and entrant of their annual poetry contests.

Yes, Please (and Thank You)

In early spring, a call for judges came to our chapter. Eager to give my service, I signed up. After some time, I was assigned the William Stafford Memorial Award. William Stafford, a prolific poet, wrote every day for decades. He also served as consultant in poetry at the Library of Congress (a precursor role to that of U.S. Poet Laureate).

Following the submission deadline, I reviewed entries, selected winners and citations and waited for full contest results to be released during a convention in June. It was a positive experience that I would repeat. Fellow member, former educator and talented writer Tamara Baxter also served as judge, as she has in prior years. Like many of the area’s Appalachian writers, Tamara has an incredible sense of place and people and an encyclopedia of stories that transcend place and personality to reveal the universal in our human struggles and triumphs. Her book, Rock Big & Sing Loud, is a delightful collection of such stories.

One of my favorite moments as a judge is the first review of the entries. It’s like unwrapping gifts at holiday time: you don’t know what you will discover! A specific gift from this contest was the opportunity to learn about William Stafford. I picked up Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems, which as the title suggests is 100 must-read poems by Stafford. I read the book twice and re-read portions of it multiple times.

Exceeding Expectations

My personal writing goals this year include entering contests and submitting to journals, so I entered some of NFSPS’s more than 50 contests. Based upon what I’d been told by experienced fellow members, I did not expect to see my name or poetry appear anywhere in this competition, except as judge. I was pleasantly surprised to receive two honorable mention citations: 2HM in contest #10 and 5HM in contest #39. I was excited for fellow chapter member Harvey Stone, who has placed in previous contests, as he received 2HM in contests #44 and #45.

The Gifts of Writing

One of the things I love about writing is the many gifts I receive from it, starting with the act of writing itself. When I submit my work, that means I finished something (to the degree any of us writers can call something truly completed), and I celebrate the act of submission without regard for outcome. Writing is a gift. Submission is a win.

What happens next is … the next gift. If my work does not win or is not accepted, I have a chance to reassess it, tweak if needed, and seek a new home for it. If it wins or is accepted for publication, it’s an exciting day! And if my work receives a citation or honorable mention, then I get a chance both to celebrate the recognition and to reassess and submit elsewhere.

If you write, how do you give back to your community? What gifts come to you from giving? What perspective do you bring to your writing each day? How do you perceive your role as a writer? Share in comments below!

Check out other articles from my #amwriting series:

2 thoughts on “#amwriting: Giving and Receiving

  1. I myself try to always change one person’s day through my writing. But lately, I’ve taken up volunteering for a local journalism programme, and that’s been one tangible way I’ve been trying to give back to the industry. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    1. Stuart,

      That’s a wonderful way to think of writing: changing someone’s day! (And thank you for making my day with your response.) Best wishes to you in your volunteer work and in your writing.

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