Annual poetry festival honors finalists, features WKU alumna

Junior Adrian Sanders embraces senior Natalie Rickman after finding out that Rickman won first place in the 2017 Goldenrod Poetry Festival at Cherry Hall on April 17, 2017. 

Olivia Mohr

Under the fluorescent lights of room 125 in Cherry Hall, students gathered to hear poetry read aloud.

The Goldenrod Poetry Festival is an annual celebration of student poetry. This year, it took place on Monday at 7:30 p.m. Students were permitted to submit up to five poems into a student poetry contest per person and English Club members chose 10 finalists. The festival features a guest poet each year who chooses three winners. This year’s guest speaker was WKU alumna Maggie Woodward. On Monday, Woodward led a workshop with the 10 finalists and had dinner with them before the festival. At the festival, finalists read their poems aloud. Woodward then read several of her own poems and announced the three winners.

“I love WKU so much, so it feels very natural to be back in Cherry Hall,” Woodward said. “It feels weird to have given the reading because I remember watching the readings as a student. It felt like coming home.”

Woodward graduated from WKU in 2014. She was a finalist at the Goldenrod Poetry Festival her junior and senior years at WKU, and won second place her junior year. She lives in Oxford, Mississippi. She started out as an English literature major and switched to creative writing her senior year at WKU.

Woodward will graduate from the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) as a Master of Fine Arts next month. In August, she will start a PhD program in film and cinema studies at the University of Southern California. She teaches introduction to creative writing and freshman composition classes at Ole Miss and is a senior editor of the literary journal, “Yalobusha Review”.

The poems Woodward presented are mainly from her thesis collection and a book she wrote coming out this year called “Found Footage.”

At Goldenrod, Woodward chose Natalie Rickman as this year’s first place winner with her poem “Poetry.” Emily Houston won second place with her poem “They Told Me Their Stories” and Heather Borders won third place with her poem “Riptide.”

Allison Call, Alayni Hilton, Kalyn Johnson, Jessica McCormick, Adrian Sanders, Cassidy Townsend and Natalie Turner were the other finalists.

The 10 finalists got their poems archived at the library, and the three winners won small cash prizes. 

Jerod Hollyfield, an assistant professor in the English department, is co-adviser of the Goldenrod Poetry Festival,  along with assistant professor Gillian Knoll. Hollyfield said he thinks Goldenrod is an important event.

“I think it’s a great testament to the capability of writers and the talented writers at WKU,” Hollyfield said. “I think it’s also important to have an event dedicated to poetry because it’s an art form that we don’t necessarily encounter or even think about regularly anymore.”

Hollyfield described Woodward as “a really interesting artist who’s both an artist and a scholar, which is something you don’t always encounter.”

Woodward considers herself a confessional poet, and she said she hopes her poetry will encourage the finalists and those who heard her present her poems to write confessional poetry.

“I hope that they took away the idea that it’s okay to write super confessional poetry and reveal secrets about yourself in poems because it connects with people  and to not be afraid to bear it all,” she said.

Natalie Rickman won first place with her poem called “Poetry,” which was based on an exercise in a book called “The Poetry Gymnasium: 94 Proven Exercises to Shape Your Best Verse” by Tom C. Hunley, an English professor at WKU. Woodward said she enjoyed the way Rickman approached the exercise and she enjoyed the way the other two winners ended their poems.

At Woodward’s workshop, finalists wrote erasure poems. They wrote the poems on postcards and addressed them to whomever they wanted. Woodward sent the postcards in the mail. Rickman said she enjoyed the exercise.

“I’ve never written an erasure before, so it was cool to try out that form,” Rickman said. 

Rickman, a graduating senior from Bowling Green, said Woodward inspired her to look into the MFA program at Ole Miss.

“I had never heard about Ole Miss’s MFA program, and Maggie spoke so highly of it, so I’m definitely going to look into it, and there’s no admission fee so I’ll probably even apply to it,” she said.

Rickman said she is excited to win first place at Goldenrod and proud to be part of WKU’s creative writing department. She also feels grateful to WKU’s faculty and staff.

“The faculty and staff at WKU have been so helpful and so inspiring and so encouraging,” she said. “Also, the creative writing department is full of really awesome, talented, kind people.” 

Rickman said she feels her poetry shares the same confessional style as Woodward,  and she admires Woodward’s poetry.

“It was funny, it was honest, it was a little bit heartbreaking,” she said.  

Reporter Olivia Mohr can be reached at 270-745-6288 and [email protected]