By: Jessica Gervais, Contributing Writer
FARMINGTON – The University of Maine at Farmington recently welcomed Julia Bouwsma as the new professor of creative writing; Bouwsma also had the honor of being named Maine’s Poet Laureate earlier this summer.
Bouwsma has been writing poetry since she was in the third grade.
“I tell people I either wanted to be a poet or a pirate…I really liked pirates,” Bouwsma said.
Penelope Lawrence, a family friend and professor at Yale who came to her elementary school and volunteered to teach a class, was a huge influence who started her off on her writing career. Lawrence would take ‘adult poems’ as opposed to children’s poems and teach the kids about them, the students then memorized poems and got prompts they had to write about, according to Bouwsma.
It would seem that Bouwsma has always held a wild and free-running imagination right from the very early beginning.
“Poetry was sort of my first love with writing and it still is,” she said.
Because Bouwsma was only just recently elected as Maine’s Poet Laureate she said she is listening and learning every single day to find out more of what the title means, however she has plenty of ideas of how to utilize the title on her own.
To her being Maine’s Poet Laureate means more opportunity to know fellow Maine poets and work with them to expand Maine’s poet community. Bouwsma said she’s in the “throwing mashed potatoes at the ceiling to see what sticks” stage of her journey as a poet laureate. She expressed that she has many project ideas and just isn’t yet ready to share them. Although she did share that throughout her five-year term she plans to find other poets to collaborate with.
“I always think more minds are better than just mine.”
She explained that Maine is a wide state with very many different broad communities, there are plenty of chances to grow the poetry community. Teaching poetry is really important to her and she hopes to help grow connections between poets and the public, private, and home-school systems to further expand these connections.
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.
Third Place winner Gail Bello. (Photo courtesy Gail Bello)
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.