By Willy Doehring Contributing Writer
UMF students Billie Rose Newby and Gail Bello recently placed second and third respectively in the Terry Plunkett Maine Poetry Festival’s annual Student Poetry Contest, which was open to all University of Maine System students. To celebrate their achievement, Newby and Bello will be reading their poems before the festival’s keynote speaker, poet Sharon Olds, at the University of Maine at Augusta on April 6, 2018.
The competition was stiff for students participating in the contest. There were over 90 submissions from across the state, with each student allowed to submit up to three poems. For Newby, a freshman in the Creative Writing program, placing second was as surprising as it was exciting. “I was honestly shocked,” Newby said. “I was really happy, but also never thought that my work was actually good enough.”
Like most Creative Writing majors, Newby learned about the contest through reminders sent to majors by professors Pat O’Donnell and Jeffrey Thomson. At the time, the contest didn’t stand out to Newby, but after seeing that submissions were open to students of any year, she decided to enter.
“It was a spur of the moment, ‘I’m going to be brave and apply for one of these’ kind of thing,” Newby said.
Bello, a junior Creative Writing major, had a similar experience to Newby when it came to entering the contest. Bello had heard about the festival in the past but never entered before. Bello thought to herself, “You know, I’m gonna go for this one,” after seeing the email reminding Creative Writing majors of this year’s contest. Bello was thrilled to be in third place, but like Newby was surprised to see her work recognized. Bello’s poem “had been rejected by different literary magazines in the past, so it was cool to see it finally be given a place.”
The festival will be a first for both Newby and Bello. Both have read their poetry in front of an audience before, but it has always been at smaller events such as student readings in the Landing. “I’ve kind of been not thinking about it in hopes of not getting overly nervous,” Newby said. “I’m sure I’ll be fine right up until the moment I actually get up to read.”
For Bello, dealing with the nerves is a bit easier. “Personally, I’m very blessed that I don’t have a fear of public speaking,” Bello said with a laugh. Still, the festival will be the biggest reading yet for Bello. “It’s not my first time reading my work, but it’s my first time being recognized for it,” she said.
On the day of the festival itself, Newby will read her poem “Contents of Uncle John’s Attic,” a list poem that tells a couple’s tragic story through the items stored in their attic. Bello will read from her poem “When I saw Degas’s Little Dancer of 14 Years,” which refers to Edgar Degas’s famous sculpture of a young dancer while reflecting on Bello’s own time ignoring directions in ballet class.