Each year, the Friends of the North Branch Area Library sponsors a poetry contest for youth of all ages.
The contest was created by members of the Friends group and Branch Librarian Sue Monroe in 2012. Poets are encouraged to write an original piece around a theme, such as “love”, “winter”, or “humor”. The first couple of years, it was Valentine’s themed, but became a general contest in the third year. Members of the Friends group serve as judges, selecting grand prize winners from each age category. Usually, the contest culminates in February with a reading event. Students and their families and friends gather to share their work. The contest has changed over the years to adapt with the times. This year’s iteration took place in April, did not host a reading event, and participants from other communities served by the East Central Regional Library, of which North Branch is a branch, were encouraged to apply.
During the planning period for this year’s poetry contest, Minnesota was in the darkest days of the Covid-19 pandemic. The virus was spreading like wildfire across our communities. Hospitals were near capacity, overwhelmed by the rising cases, and vaccines were still in development. Despite beginning the 2020-2021 academic year with in-person instruction, the majority of school districts had to switch to online learning. Throughout the pandemic, I was keenly aware of how the experience was shaping our lives, both on an individual and collective level.
The theme of this year’s contest, and title of this collection, is “Stuck at Home”. The Friends and I wanted to give students in our communities the opportunity to share their experiences of the pandemic. One of my favorite things about this contest is we provide little direction for participants. All we ask is participants write a poem pertaining to the year’s theme, submit, and their work will be considered. This gives kids of all ages the chance to get as creative as they would like.
As entries came in, I was moved by the stories that these poems share. Some poets articulate the joys that kept them afloat this year while others wrote about frustration, boredom, and fear. Many look forward to a return to normal: one poet, while describing a triumphant reunion with friends, declares “we will burn our masks!” Some of the poems are funny, others are somber. Many reflect on events inside their homes, chronicling daily activities and distance learning, while others turn their gaze to the wider world. What strikes me most about this collection is each poem is unique. While the experience of the Covid-19 pandemic has been global, every poet has their own story to tell.
Overall, many of this year’s poets were from North Branch, but several live in other communities served by the East Central Regional Library. I am proud to share their work with you.
Amelia Birkholz, North Branch Librarian