Annual Beall Poetry Festival invites famous poets to campus, awards student work

An audience of undergraduates, graduates and professors congratulate the student literary contest winners at the Beall Poetry Festival's first event on Wednesday. Baylee VerSteeg | Multimedia Journalist

By JP Graham | Reporter

This year marks Baylor’s 24th annual Beall Poetry Festival, an event hosted by Baylor’s English department that invites famous poets from around the world to read their poetry aloud to students.

The Beall Poetry festival includes a student literary contest, a poetry panel where students can ask questions directly to featured authors, and poetry readings by famous authors at 7 p.m. from March 21 to March 23 in Kayser Auditorium.

The student literary contest on Wednesday afternoon had two categories: fiction and prose. Fiction pieces were judged by author Sarah Bird, and poems were judged by poet Lisa Faye Coutley. Fredericksburg, Va. sophomore Ella Liu won first place in the fiction contest for her story “Sirens,” and Mansfield senior Taylor Strong won first place in the poetry contest for her poem “Red, red.”

Graduate Student Katie Tjerrild recieves the graduate student poetry prize. Baylee VerSteeg | Multimedia Journalist

Wayne, Ill., junior Alyssa Strzalka, who won second place in the prose category for her poem “Tell me a story,” said she is passionate about poetry because it’s a unique form of expression compared to others.

“I love poetry, and I love the expression of it and the fact that you can use language in a different way than maybe stories or songs,” Strzalka said. “Just being able to write a story that other people appreciate and hopefully connect to also is really special.”

Professor and graduate program director for the Baylor English department, Dr. Richard Russel, is the director of the Beall Poetry Festival. Russel said the event’s name comes from Mrs. Virginia B. Ball, a 1940 Baylor University graduate who attended a poetry reading by Robert Frost while she was in school.

When her parents passed away, Ball established the “John A. and DeLouise McClelland Beall Endowed Fund” in 1994 to honor her parents and encourage the writing and appreciation of poetry among Baylor’s student body.

Russel said the festival exposes students to quality poetry they wouldn’t necessarily hear on campus otherwise and gives students the opportunity to hear poems in the tone, style and voice they were initially written in.

“Mrs. Virginia B. Ball wanted to introduce a lot of students to poetry, [for the students] to see major poets speaking and to realize their words really do matter,” Russel said.

The 2018 Beall Poetry Festival features poets Kwame Dawes, Dana Gioia, Mark Jarman and Lisa Russ Spaar, all of which Russel said write and present their work exceptionally well.

“We look for poets who are not just good writers,” Russel said, “but who also engage the public well and are good readers of their work.”

Kwame Dawes, born in Ghana and raised in Jamaica, is the Chancellor’s professor of English at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and the editor-in-chief of the Prairie Schooner Magazine. According to the Poetry Foundation, Dawes’ 2007 book “Bob Marley: Lyrical Genius” is considered to be the most authoritative study of Bob Marley’s lyrics. Dawes performed Wednesday in Kayser Auditorium.

Originally from Kentucky, Mark Jarman lives in Nashville and is currently the Centennial Professor of English at Vanderbilt University. Jarman’s collection “The Black Riviera” received the Poet’s Prize in 1991, an award granted by a committee of American poets to the best American book or verse. His “Questions for Ecclesiastes” in 1997 received the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, according to the Poetry Foundation. Jarman is scheduled to speak Thursday, March 22 at 7 p.m.

Dana Gioia, born in Hawthorne, Calif. and professor of poetry and public culture at the University of Southern California, has been the California State Poet Laureate since 2015. Gioia was a businessman until 1992, when he attended Harvard to earn his master’s degree in comparative literature and dedicated himself to writing full-time. The Poetry Foundation lists Gioia as the American Book Award winner for his composition of poems ‘Interrogations at Noon’ in 2001, and has most recently published a new collection of Poems, ’99 Poems,’ in 2016. Gioia is scheduled to perform Friday, March 23 at 7 p.m. in Kayser Auditorium.

The festival continues Thursday with the Virginia Beall Ball Lecture in Contemporary Poetry. The lecture, “Unshaming the Lyric Poem” by Lisa Russ Spaar will be at 3:30 p.m. in Room 101 of the Carroll Science Building.