BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Families gathered from all over the state on Southern University's campus Friday for the Pinkie Gordon Lane Poetry Contest awards. Southern's John B. Cade Library sported festive wreaths and a table to enlist new students in the lobby as high school poets and their parents arrived.
The Pinkie Gordon Lane Contest, now in its sixth year, bears the name of the former Louisiana Poet Laureate and former Southern English Department chair.
Lane inspired poetry festivals during her tenure at Southern and led the literature department into its poet heyday, inspiring students to stretch their poet wings and fly. This contest is meant to encourage high school students, gleaning from all Louisiana schools the finest young poets for a moment in the spotlight.
On Friday, the list of winners was devoid of students from Baton Rouge area schools for the first time in the contest's history. It wasn't that they entered and didn't win, but that schools from the area did not participate. The New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) and Caddo Magnet High School grabbed poetry gold.
The first-place top poet was Hannah Molay of NOCCA for her poem "The Universe Begins in Our Backyard." In describing the universe, she sees someone building, "Earth is an unfinished, pass-fail science project on your desk" and later, "Pluto is lost somewhere between the couch cushions."
Joshua Wooten from Caddo Magnet High in Shreveport, finished in second place with his poem "Others." Mirabella Miller of NOCCA was third place, and Holly Penta from NOCCA was fourth place.
Southern assembled a fine array of prizes for these young writers. The first place prize, provided by Jeffrey Thomas of DeMas Consulting, was an Apple iPad Touch. The second place winner got an Amazon Kindle Fire HD Tablet from Southern Teachers and Parents Federal Credit Union.
Judging is carefully handled to avoid favoritism. Becky Larkin, chair of the judging panel, remarked that five judges never met each other and corresponded by email about entries bearing numbers and titles, but no names.
Rasheedah Jenkins, a professor in English composition and African-American Literature, was one of the judges. I asked how one judges poems that can be so different, depending on the person writing them.
"I look for based on the rubric provided. I looked for of course what was provided on the rubric as far as content, tone, but also just what spoke to me on a personal note," Jenkins answered. "How the poet was able to kind of touch me in some sort of way. That was my major push for judging if the poem spoke to me on a personal level and could speak to others as well."
As Dr. Emma Perry, the head librarian at Southern, regaled families to try the punch, sandwiches and cookie snacks, Jenkins said this contest is a powerful influence.
"Teaching literature courses, I do see students tend to not really embrace literature anymore," Jenkins said. "They don't really read anymore, because they are so distracted with other gadgets, technology. And so these opportunities and programs are for sure needed, to encourage students to write to read, to enjoy literature again."