Connecting Creativity and Conservation: The River of Words Poetry and Art Contest

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Old quill placed on a table.

Connecting Creativity and Conservation: The River of Words Poetry and Art Contest

Imagine a world where young poets and artists come together to celebrate nature’s beauty through their creativity. This is the essence of the River of Words Poetry and Art Contest!

It’s a special competition that encourages young minds to express themselves through poetry and art while also promoting the importance of protecting our environment. Let’s delve into the details of this remarkable contest and discover how it connects art and nature for a brighter future.

What is the River of Words Poetry and Art Contest?

The River of Words Contest is an annual, global competition for young people, recognized as the world’s largest of its kind. It’s a free event that encourages children and teenagers, aged 5 to 19, to appreciate and understand their local watersheds.

The contest fosters environmental awareness and cultural sharing through art and poetry. Students from kindergarten to 12th grade (ages 5-20) are eligible to participate, with a limit of five submissions each in poetry and art categories.

Participants have the opportunity to enter their work in state-level competitions. Each year, around 50 poems and artworks are chosen as regional winners. This initiative is organized by the Center for Environmental Literacy at Saint Mary’s College of California.

Its main objective is to help young individuals connect with their surroundings by expressing themselves through art and poetry related to their environment.

The contest includes various categories and offers numerous prizes. Winners’ creations are featured in a colorful booklet and displayed at different locations. The contest provides educational resources and professional development opportunities, reaching thousands of teachers and youths globally. The River of Words Contest, in partnership with The Library of Congress Center for the Book, has been motivating educators and students for over 25 years.

Female student answering a test while smiling.

Why should you join the River of Words Poetry and Art Contest?

Joining the River of Words Poetry and Art Contest offers a range of advantages for budding poets and artists. Here’s an overview of how participating in this contest can be beneficial:

Enhance Artistic Abilities

This contest is a perfect platform for young artists and poets to hone their skills. They get the chance to try out various art techniques and poetry styles. The feedback provided by judges is constructive, helping participants to learn and improve. It’s a great way for them to fine-tune their artistic voice and technique.

Earn Recognition for Creative Work

Achieving success in the River of Words Contest is a notable accomplishment. It brings recognition to young creators, boosting their profiles as artists or poets. This recognition can be a standout feature in college applications and future job prospects. Even those who don’t win but reach the finals or receive an honorable mention gain valuable acknowledgment.

Heighten Environmental Consciousness

The contest emphasizes environmental themes, guiding participants to a deeper appreciation and understanding of environmental issues. Through their art and poetry, participants can highlight environmental concerns and inspire others to engage in environmental conservation.

Build a Community of Like-Minded Individuals

The contest connects young poets and artists globally! It’s an opportunity to meet peers with similar interests in poetry, art, and environmental advocacy, broadening their personal and professional networks.

Boost Confidence and Self-Worth

Recognition in the contest can significantly elevate a young artist’s or poet’s self-esteem and confidence. It validates their talents and encourages them to pursue their creative passions while overcoming self-doubt.

Experience Joy and Creative Expression

Above all, the River of Words Contest is a fun and rewarding experience. It offers a creative outlet for young people to express themselves, unleash their imagination, and share their unique perspectives with a wider audience.

The River of Words Poetry and Art Contest is a nurturing ground for young talent. It aids in skill development, provides recognition, fosters environmental understanding, helps build a supportive community, boosts self-confidence, and allows for enjoyable creative expression.

poetry word cloud placed on a table next to a cup of coffee and a pen

The River of Words Poetry and Art Contest Prizes

In the River of Words Poetry and Art Contest, winners are chosen across various age and grade categories for both art and poetry. The contest divides entries into the following categories based on grade or age:

Category I: Kindergarten to Grade 2 (Primary), ages 5-7

Category II: Grades 3-5 (Elementary), ages 8-11

Category III: Grades 6-8 (Intermediary), ages 11-14

Category IV: Grades 9-12 (Secondary), ages 14-19

There are also special awards within the contest:

International Prize: Given to one international submission, either in art or poetry, from any age category.

Shasta Bioregion Prize: Recognizes an entry, either in art or poetry, that highlights a Northern California watershed.

Monkey’s Raincoat Prize: Awarded to a short poem that reflects the Japanese haiku style, celebrating River of Words’ co-founder Robert Hass’s interest in this form.

One Square Block Prize: For poetry that explores urban environments and the relationship between human-made and natural elements. Examples for inspiration include “Stoop Gardens in the City” by Ariella Brodie-Weisberg and “Down by the Batture” by Aiden Wiese.

The number of winners for the Monkey’s Raincoat, Shasta Bioregion, and One Square Block prizes is decided by the judges, typically one per year.

Additional categories include:

“On Writing” Poetry Finalists: This category highlights about 5 poems annually that reflect on the writing process and the poet’s connection to writing, with past examples like “The Ant” by Grace Gorman and “Nature” by Lesley Mendoza-Gomez.

Art and Poetry Finalists: Each year, about 50 finalists in both art and poetry are selected for publication alongside the Grand Prize winners. The exact number varies based on the quality and quantity of submissions.

Lastly, the River of Words/Kalmanovitz School of Education Teacher of the Year award honors one exceptional educator who integrates River of Words methods in their teaching and encourages students to connect with their local watershed.

What kind of art and poetry is River of Words looking for?

River of Words encourages young creators to submit artwork and poetry that:

Engages Thoughtfully

Your artwork or poem should show a deep and careful consideration of the concepts and images you choose to include. It’s important to use precise and detailed language or artistic techniques.

For example, if you’re writing a poem about a river, don’t just say it’s big and blue. Describe the way the sunlight dances on the water, or how the current sounds like a soft melody.

Similarly, in a painting of a forest, you could focus on the intricate patterns of the bark on the trees or the various shades of green in the leaves, showing your attentive observation and connection to the subject.

Visualizes Concepts

Your submission should vividly bring your ideas to life. If you’re creating a piece of art, focus on making your concept visually striking and clear.

If your artwork is about the rainforest, try to capture the lushness and diversity of the plants and animals in your painting or drawing. On the other hand, if you’re writing a poem, use descriptive language that paints a picture in the reader’s mind.

If your poem is about a mountain, describe its towering presence, the texture of its rocky surface, and the way the summit meets the clouds. In both art and poetry, the goal is to make the viewer or reader ‘see’ your idea through your creative expression.

Creates an Immersive Experience

In your artwork or poetry, focus on using imagery that deeply engages the audience. Your goal is to take them on a journey that stirs emotions and captures their imagination. Whether it’s through a vivid description in a poem or a striking visual scene in art, aims to create a sense of immersion.

Make the viewer or reader feel as if they are part of the environment or story you are depicting, experiencing the emotions and atmosphere you convey.

Explores Creativity

This aspect of the contest invites you to enjoy the process of creative experimentation. Feel free to play around with various styles, forms, and materials in your artwork or poetry.

Don’t hesitate to try out new techniques or approaches that are unfamiliar to you. This could mean experimenting with a new painting style, using different mediums like charcoal or watercolor, or writing poetry in a new format.

The key is to step out of your comfort zone and explore the vast possibilities of artistic and poetic expression. This exploration not only adds uniqueness to your work but also helps in discovering your own creative voice.

Focuses on Nature

This part of the contest encourages you to center your work around aspects of the natural world that captivate your interest. Whether it’s a unique landscape, a specific type of ecosystem, or an individual animal or plant, your artwork or poetry should focus on these natural details.

You might be fascinated by the intricate patterns of a leaf, the rugged beauty of a mountain range, the delicate ecosystem of a pond, or the behavior of a certain animal. Whatever element of nature you choose, let your work showcase and celebrate it, drawing attention to its unique characteristics and beauty.

This focus helps you appreciate the wonders of the natural world and share that appreciation and insight with others.

Demonstrates Scientific Understanding

This guideline encourages you to blend your creative work with educational elements. Incorporate the scientific concepts or facts you’ve learned in school into your art or poetry.

For example, if you’re creating a piece about the ocean, you might include details about marine life, oceanic ecosystems, or even the physics of waves. In poetry, you could weave in references to biological processes, ecological relationships, or geological formations.

The aim is to demonstrate your understanding of these scientific topics through your artistic or poetic expression, creating a work that is not only aesthetically pleasing but also informative and educational.

Reflects Your Environment

This aspect of the contest encourages you to draw inspiration directly from the environment you live in. Look around you and pay close attention to the details of your immediate surroundings.

It could be the urban landscape of a city, the tranquility of the countryside, the bustling activity of a suburban neighborhood, or the serene beauty of a coastal area. Create art or poetry that reflects what you observe in this environment – the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations.

The goal is to capture and convey the essence of your personal space, giving others a glimpse into your world and perspective. Whether it’s the chirping of birds, the rush of traffic, the scent of rain on pavement, or the colors of a sunset, let these everyday experiences fuel your creativity.

Offers Unique Perspectives

This guideline encourages you to create art or poetry that reveals your own unique point of view. Your work should be a reflection of your individual experiences and observations.

Think about how you see the world differently from others and express this distinct perspective in your creation. It could be your take on a common scene or subject but seen through the lens of your personal experiences, thoughts, and feelings.

The aim is to offer a piece that is uniquely yours, providing a viewpoint that only you, with your unique background and insights, can offer. This personal touch is what makes your work stand out and resonate with others.

Connects with a Global or Cultural Experience

This aspect of the contest encourages you to create artwork or poetry that reflects the broader cultural experiences or the natural environment that surrounds you. Your creation should demonstrate an understanding and appreciation of the diverse world we live in.

This could involve showcasing traditions, landscapes, lifestyles, or environmental issues that are significant to different cultures or regions. The idea is to create a piece that not only represents your own experiences but also resonates with a wider, global audience, highlighting the interconnectedness of our world and its various communities.

Personal Interpretation

This point emphasizes the importance of reflecting on what the contest’s themes personally mean to you. It’s all about your individual interpretation and how you relate to these ideas.

Everyone sees and understands the world differently, and these unique perspectives are what make each submission special. When you create your artwork or poetry, consider how the themes resonate with your own experiences, thoughts, and feelings.

Your personal take on these themes is what will make your work distinctive and valuable. Remember, it’s your unique viewpoint and expression that will make your contribution stand out in the contest.

River of Words aims to connect young people with their local environments, whether those are green, open spaces, or bustling cityscapes, through the creation of art and poetry. This contest seeks submissions that show a genuine connection to and interpretation of the world as you see it, inviting us into your unique perspective of your surroundings.

Students sitting in a couch in a room.

How do I join the River of Words Poetry and Art Contest?

The contest is open to students in kindergarten through 12th grade, who are between 5 and 19 years old. They must be attending school to participate. Submissions must be made by a parent, guardian, teacher, or facilitator unless the student is 18 or older.

Students can send in up to 5 poetry and 5 art entries, totaling a maximum of 10 submissions. Only the first 5 entries in each category will be considered if more are submitted. Each entry must be accompanied by a separate submission form.

All poems must be original and free of any personal information like names or ages. They should be in document or PDF format.

Written poems shouldn’t be longer than 32 lines. If the poem is in American Sign Language (ASL), it should not exceed 3 minutes and must include a short written summary.

Group poems and artworks are allowed, but only one student (selected as the group’s representative) will be eligible for prizes.

Currently, the contest accepts poems written in English and Spanish only.

Art entries must be mailed in, even digital works (which should be printed). Include a printed confirmation form with mailed art. All mediums are accepted, including paint, pencil, markers, ink, crayon, chalk or pastel (fixed), photography, fabric, collage, and computer-generated art. Note that submitted art won’t be returned.

Make sure your work is final before submitting it, as revisions aren’t accepted.

By submitting, you grant River of Words the rights to publish, reproduce, and distribute the work, including featuring it in their annual anthology or other publications. Submitted works shouldn’t be used for other contests or publications.

Teacher and group entries must be submitted through the Jotform portal, not through Google or Dropbox. Ensure to use the updated 2024 Parental Permission Form and upload it with your submission.

These guidelines ensure that the contest runs smoothly and fairly, providing a great opportunity for young artists and poets to showcase their talents.

Are collaborative works or poems eligible?

When considering the eligibility of collaborative artworks or poems for the River of Words Poetry and Art Contest, it’s important to understand the criteria. The key factor in determining eligibility is the number of students who originally created the poem or artwork.

If a poem or artwork has been created as a result of revisions made during a workshop or if it has been generated as part of a class-wide exercise, it typically has one original, primary creator.

In such cases, the original and primary creator has the option to submit the artwork under their own name. If this submission is awarded a prize, your child will be the recipient of the prize.

However, if a piece of artwork involves multiple primary, original creators, such as a painting that more than one student worked on during a similar timespan or a poem where several students contributed stanzas, it can still be submitted to the contest. In this scenario, you’ll need to select one child as the representative of the group for submission purposes.

It’s important to note that regardless of the number of creators, only one entry form may accompany each poem or artwork. Therefore, you should choose one child to represent the collaborative work in the contest. If the collaborative poem or artwork is chosen as a winning entry, the selected child will receive the prize on behalf of the group.

How hard is getting into the River of Words Poetry and Art Contest?

Joining the River of Words Poetry and Art Contest is straightforward and accessible for students from kindergarten to 12th grade, aged 5 to 20. Each participant is allowed to submit up to 5 poetry and 5 art pieces, making a total of 10 possible entries.

This contest is aimed at encouraging students to discover and value the watersheds in their local areas, while also promoting an understanding of environmental issues through creative arts and cultural interaction.

The submitted works are eligible for entry in a state-level contest. Every year, around 50 poems and artworks are chosen as winners from different regions. The contest is organized and overseen by the Center for Environmental Literacy at Saint Mary’s College of California.

Is there an entry fee for the River of Words Poetry and Art Contest? No, there is absolutely no cost to enter the contest! It’s completely free for students to participate.

View of a woman using a laptop.

When is the deadline to apply to the River of Words Poetry and Art Contest?

The deadline for sending in submissions is January 31, 2024 at 11:59 pm. After this time, the submission portal will be closed, and no late entries will be accepted under any circumstances.

The winners of the contest will be announced in early April 2024. However, if you live in Georgia or Arizona, make sure to check the specific deadlines for the state-level competitions in these areas.

Please note that all artwork needs to be physically mailed to the following address:

Attention: River of Words

Filippi Academic Hall (FAH), 2nd Floor

1928 St. Mary’s Rd., Moraga, CA 94556

PMB 4350, Moraga, CA 94575-4350

When you submit your artwork, make sure to include a printed copy of the submission confirmation email. This email is sent to the address you provided during submission.

Attach this printed confirmation to your artwork before mailing it. Remember, we cannot accept any artwork that is sent without this email proof of entry form.

When do I find out about my submission to the River of Words Poetry and Art Contest?

After you enter your work into the River of Words Poetry and Art Contest, here’s what happens next:

You can send in your poetry and artwork through the contest’s official website. Remember, the last day to submit is February 1, 2024, before midnight Eastern Standard Time.

Out of all the entries, about 50 poems and artworks are chosen as winners each year from different areas. This selection is done by a panel of judges who are experts in their fields.

If your work is selected as a winner, you will be informed about it. The winning entries get published in a booklet with full-color prints and are displayed at various events and locations.

It’s important to note that while this is the general process, the exact timing for when you’ll hear back may vary. Typically, you can expect to receive news about your submission after the deadline has passed and once the judging process is complete.

Where is the River of Words Poetry and Art Contest held?

The River of Words Contest, a free and annual event, is one of the largest international youth poetry and art competitions. It welcomes participants from both local and global communities.

The whole event is organized and overseen by the Center for Environmental Literacy at Saint Mary’s College of California.

Students attending an art class.

When does the River of Words Poetry and Art Contest take place?

The 2024 edition of the River of Words Poetry and Art Contest is currently accepting entries. This is an exciting opportunity for young poets and artists to showcase their talents and creativity in this annual event. If you’re interested in participating, now is the time to prepare and send in your artwork or poetry for consideration in the contest.

How can you create a winning submission for the River of Words Poetry and Art Contest?

Creating a standout entry for the River of Words Poetry and Art Contest involves a blend of imagination, uniqueness, and careful consideration. To enhance your chances of success, here are some guidelines:

Embrace Originality and Creativity

The judges of the River of Words Contest value creative interpretations of environmental themes. It’s important to think outside the box and offer a fresh, unique perspective or concept in your submission.

This could involve exploring less common aspects of environmental awareness or presenting familiar topics in innovative ways. Instead of a straightforward depiction of a river, you might focus on the life it supports or its role in a local ecosystem.

In poetry, this could mean using metaphorical language to convey the relationship between nature and human life. The key is to avoid clichés and predictable approaches, aiming instead to produce a piece that stands out for its inventive angle and personal touch.

This approach not only showcases your creative skills but also contributes to raising awareness about environmental issues in a compelling and thought-provoking manner.

Employ Striking Language and Visuals

In both poetry and art, the use of language and visuals is pivotal. In poetry, carefully select words that create vivid mental images and stir emotions within your readers. Make them see, feel, and connect with your words.

In art, leverage a diverse palette of colors, shapes, and textures to convey your chosen theme visually. Engage your audience’s senses through striking and expressive visuals. This dual approach, whether through words or visuals, enhances the impact of your work and leaves a lasting impression.

Align with the Contest Theme

Ensure that your submission harmonizes with the contest’s yearly theme. This theme is at the heart of the competition, and the judges will assess how effectively your work links the theme to environmental elements. Your piece should reflect a thoughtful integration of the theme, demonstrating a clear and meaningful connection to the environment.

Painting in a canvass.

Revise and Refine

Before submitting your entry, take the time to refine it meticulously. Carefully revise and edit your work to eliminate any grammatical errors, address formatting concerns, and rectify technical glitches. This attention to detail ensures that your submission is polished and professional, leaving no room for distractions from the power of your message or creativity.

Draw Inspiration from Nature

Given the contest’s environmental focus, draw inspiration directly from nature itself. Incorporate elements of the natural world into your work, weaving them seamlessly into your creation.

Employ natural imagery, metaphors, and symbols to establish a profound and intimate connection with the environment. This approach not only aligns with the contest’s theme but also enriches your work with the authenticity of nature’s beauty and significance.

Conciseness is Key

In poetry, the strength of your words surpasses their quantity. Prioritize brevity and clarity to make every word impactful. In art, allow your visuals to convey the message, reducing the reliance on text. Embracing simplicity enhances the impact of your submission, ensuring that your message resonates clearly and memorably.

Explore Different Forms and Techniques

Don’t hesitate to venture into diverse poetic forms and artistic techniques. By pushing the boundaries of your creative abilities, you can craft a submission that stands out as distinctive and unforgettable.

Seek Constructive Feedback

Consider seeking valuable feedback from a teacher, mentor, or fellow creator before finalizing your submission. Their input can offer valuable insights, identifying areas for improvement and enriching the quality of your work.

To craft a successful entry for the River of Words Contest, blend your creative flair with originality and a meticulous approach. By adhering to these tips, you’ll be well on your way to creating a piece that not only demonstrates your artistic and poetic talents but also makes a meaningful impact.

Two female students studying in a living room.

What are the Societal and Industry Relevance of The River of Words Poetry and Art Contest?

The River of Words Poetry and Art Contest holds societal and industry relevance in several ways. Firstly, it plays a significant role in promoting environmental awareness and literacy among young students.

In today’s world, where environmental concerns are paramount, fostering an understanding of our natural surroundings is important. This contest encourages students aged 5 to 19 to explore and appreciate their local watersheds, instilling a sense of responsibility for the environment from an early age.

The contest contributes to the arts and cultural exchange by providing a platform for young poets and artists to express their creativity. It fosters a connection between the arts and the environment, demonstrating the interplay between culture and nature. This connection is essential in a society that values both artistic expression and environmental conservation.

Students lounging in the school grounds.

In the industry context, the River of Words Contest offers educational services and resources to thousands of educators and young people worldwide. This outreach has the potential to shape the future workforce, inspiring the next generation of artists, poets, and environmentalists.

The contest’s affiliation with The Library of Congress Center for the Book further highlights its industry relevance by aligning with a respected institution in the literary and cultural sector.

Overall, the River of Words Poetry and Art Contest serves as a bridge between the societal imperative of environmental awareness and the creative industry’s need to foster talent and preserve cultural and environmental heritage. It addresses critical issues of our time while nurturing the artistic and ecological consciousness of young minds.

Final Thoughts

The River of Words Poetry and Art Contest is a wonderful initiative successfully brings together creativity and environmental care. It empowers young artists to use their talents to protect our precious natural world. This contest shines as a symbol of hope, lighting the way toward a future where art and conservation work together, leaving a lasting impact on both the art scene and the environment. Let’s celebrate the blend of art and nature and keep inspiring future generations through the beauty of words and colors!

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