For Inspiring Young Poets: The Helen Creeley Student Poetry Prize

by Katie Crawford

Helen Creeley

Helen Creeley

Long before Robert Creeley attained international recognition, his older sister Helen Creeley was winning awards for her own poetry. Helen became a valuable mentor to Robert during the early years of his writing career. The Helen Creeley Student Poetry Prize is dedicated to encouraging all high school poets in Massachusetts to submit and receive recognition for their work. The contest serves as a pivotal opportunity for high school poets to showcase their talents. The winner will receive a $100 cash prize and become the opening reader for the 2015 Robert Creeley Award winner, Ron Padgett. The selected poet will also read at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival in May 2015 and the winning poem will be published. Through The HCSPP students are presented with invaluable experience and exposure to the poetic community.

Susan Edwards Richmond, a published poet and the director of the Helen Creeley Student Poetry Prize, also directs an optional, two hour, pre-submission workshop that will take place on November 14th at the Acton-Boxborough Regional High School. The workshop focuses on the importance of poem revision through writing, reading, and oral presentation. The pre-submission workshop can be very helpful to students even if they decide not to submit to the HCSPP. The workshop allows students to work under Susan Edwards Richmond in addition to meeting other young poets. The workshop is limited to 15 students and will fill quickly! Any high school student interested in improving their poetry may participate in the workshop. More information regarding the pre-submission workshop can be found here:

We interviewed Susan who articulates an inside look at the direction and decision process of the contest. 

How did The Helen Creeley Student Poetry Prize get its start?
The Robert Creeley Award ceremony, held in Acton each year, was originally opened by poetry presented by local poets. In the eighth year of the RCA the committee decided it would be a great idea to reach out to a student, a student who showed promise in poetry, and to open the ceremony with a separate award. The involvement of young poets in the award ceremony was incredibly successful, and evolved into its own award, the Helen Creeley Student Poetry Prize. The HCSPP invites all Massachusetts high school students to get submit their poetry. Students living in Massachusetts but attending an out of state high school are also welcome to apply.

Why is the Helen Creeley Student Poetry Prize geared towards high school students?
Helen Creeley had some success with her own poetry in high school. High school is a time when an original poetic voice begins to emerge. When students are encouraged to write and push themselves, a strong poetic voice can start to develop. By participating in the HCSPP, students get the opportunity to share their poem and, if they make it to the semi-finals, to enjoy the publicity. The Robert Creeley Award ceremony is open to the public and the winning poet has always visited the Acton-Boxborough Regional High School for a reading. This led to a natural connection with the student body.

Another piece of what we like to do at the Robert Creeley Foundation is focus on professional development for high school teachers. We like to provide resources for teachers to help quell the hesitation that arises on the part of both students and teachers when writing and analyzing poetry in the classroom environment. We like to embrace the journey that you take with a poem.

Our current challenge is to reach out to more students. At the present time the HCSPP contacts about 230 libraries and high schools across the state of Massachusetts. Wed like to expand our reach; however there are geographic limitations for students because they have to keep returning to Acton to continue with the contest.            

How does the Helen Creeley Student Poetry Prize committee go about directing the contest?
The committee decided to have the HCSPP function as a multistage process. Initially poets are judged by what is printed on the page (each of the entries is read blindly). Each judge reads approximately 15 to 20 poems during the first round. Approximately 15 poets will be selected to move on to the semi-finalist round. The second round is then judged by the presentation of the selected poem by the poet as well as the quality of the printed poem. On February 10th the semi-finalists will begin auditioning for the third round at the Acton-Boxborough Regional High School. All are welcome to attend the semi-finalist auditions! Each semi-finalist receives a special recognition and an award certificate. The remaining finalists return to audition again on February 23rd for the Board of Directors of the Robert Creeley Foundation. This audition is private, and the judges focus on selecting the finalists whose work stands out from the rest. Each finalist receives an award and special congratulations. The HCSPP showcases talent and focuses on quality by selecting multiple winners if necessary. Occasionally students are very close together based on quality and presentation of their work.

What types of poetry have been submitted by high school contestants in the past?
The majority of the work submitted by students is written in free verse as opposed to formal poetic forms. The finest poems submitted are generally free verse, persona poems, with a distinct voice, strong images, and original language.

Susan Richmond

Susan Richmond

What is your favorite part about working with young poets?
The first audition (second round), when we are choosing the group of semifinalists. This is the first opportunity students have to present their work for the committee. Its great to meet students, hear them present and meet their families. There is a great range of variety of talent visible during the first presentation. From the first meeting you can see the students who will go all the way through the competition and those who are just sowing the seeds of talent. The range of talent development is great, and I see great promise in each of the contestants.

What do you think young poets take away from the experience at The Robert Creeley Award ceremony where the HCSPP is also presented?
Everyone has a great time. The contest forces young poets to look at their work in a different way. Students are given the opportunity to fully examine their work and polish it take it  to the next step. During the competition the selected students have an opportunity to connect with each other. Students who would normally not have the chance to connect are brought together by the competition. Participants in the HCSPP have gone on to form Facebook groups, developing their own creative community. The young poets participating span town and county lines and this allows for creative cross pollination among young poets.

Teachers and those who are close to talented high school poets are welcome to encourage them to apply! Students can submit up to five poems. Submission should be directed here.

Special thanks to Susan Edwards Richmond for her time.