Every student experiences the feeling at least once, staring into the stucco walls of a way-too-brightly lit classroom, counting down the minutes until the clock strikes three P.M., yearning to escape the burden of learning for the day. In 1888, the great poet William Wordsworth encapsulated the feeling of the school bell ringing in his classic “The Tables Turned”: “Enough of Science and of Art/Close up those barren leaves/Come forth and bring with you a heart/That watches and receives.” Wordsworth was one of the leaders of the Romantic poets, a group of radical thinkers who believed in non-traditional education. His work inspired myriads of followers, including greats such as Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats, to discuss the importance of a practical education in their poetry.
The Romantics believed that, while school was important, students had the right to study whatever subject interested them in an environment suitable to their learning style and should not be bound to a curriculum they did not respond to. Today, these Romantic ideas are echoed in the opportunities that students across America have to pursue their personal interests, regardless of what “traditional” education looks like. The men and women of the Romantic period inspired generations of poets to follow their hearts when pursuing education, and their effects are still felt when examining college opportunities revolving around poetry. Here are a few poetry scholarships and contests you could look into when applying to college:
Named for the iconic Chilean surrealist who passed away in 1973, the Neruda Prize for Poetry is awarded by the Nimrod, a literary journal published by the University of Tulsa. Despite the specific geographic region the prize comes from, the contest is open to all U.S. students who submit by a certain date. This award, which goes towards tuition at a university of the student’s choice, is one of two offered by the Nimrod, with the other being the Porter Prize for Fiction.
Applicants are asked to submit three to ten pages of poetry, which can take the form of several short poems or one long poem. Two winners are selected from the pool for publication in the journal. The first place winner receives $2,000, with the runner-up receiving $1,000. However, the main point of the contest is to explore the inspirational qualities that writing poetry brings, even if you fail to win. As Neruda himself once said, “Poetry is an act of peace.”
Leading with a gut-punching, fist-in-the-air question that one can envision being shouted from a podium to a cheering crowd, this scholarship asks young poets four simple words that can be interpreted in many ways: “What would you change?” Sponsored by Power Poetry, a grassroots poetry organization that describes itself on its webpage as “the world’s first and largest mobile poetry community for youth…a one-of-a-kind place where you can be heard,” the headlining prompt can obviously be answered in multiple ways. However, it is necessary that it be performed as a “slam poem,” a rhythmic, inspiring style of performance art that sees poets shouting words at a vocal audience, whipping their hands around, spit and passion flying from their tongues.
To be eligible for the scholarship, students must be under the age of 25 and a “current/former high school student who will attend/is attending college within the U.S.” The winner receives a financial reward of $1,000 towards their college education.
Awarded by the National Council of Teachers of English, or the NCTE, this award is open to students who are enrolled in college, whether they have already completed a year of education or are incoming freshmen. The award is named in the honor of Norman Mailer, one of the most influential and renowned writers of the last century. Mailer is famous for his anti-establishment views and lengthy essays, told in a distinct voice dripping with cynicism.
In the tradition of Mailer, who was known for writing in a loquacious, rambling style, the award allows students to submit up to ten pages of poetry in exchange for a cash reward of $2,500. The winner is decided by a committee made up of English teachers and published writers, each judging the poem(s) on their artistic merit, voice, and style. The student that wins the award will be invited to accept the award on stage at the NCTE’s annual conference.
“The screen door slams/Mary’s dress waves/Like a vision/She dances across the porch/As the radio plays.” T.S. Elliott? Try Bruce Springsteen. The Boss, known for his poetic lyrics, would be proud of his home state’s efforts to pique the interest of young people in poetry through this scholarship, which is sponsored by the Live Poet’s Society of New Jersey.
Open to students nationwide, the scholarship has been presented since 1998 to the top young poets of America who submit their writing samples to the Live Poet’s Society. Applications for the scholarship, which is awarded quarterly, are next due on June 30. Applying poets are asked to submit a sample of 20 lines of less for consideration, and up to twelve scholarships are awarded per quarterly deadline.
In the words of William Wordsworth, “Earth has not anything to show more fair.” The peak of poetry scholarship opportunities are the Poetry Fellowships, awarded to five students per year to the tune of a staggering $25,800. The scholarships, doled out by the independent literary community The Poetry Foundation, which publishes Poetry magazine, are open to any US citizen between the ages of 21-31, meaning most students will already be in college upon receiving the scholarship.
The application requires a 250-word introduction to the work followed by ten pages of poetry. The lucky winners receive the financial award and the opportunity to be published in Poetry magazine.