Around Town

All ages sought for Athenaeum poetry events

WESTFIELD-As we find ourselves with more free time during the current COVID-19 pandemic – have you ever thought about writing a poem?

Through April 30 at midnight, the Westfield Athenaeum is accepting email entries only for its 10th annual Library Poetry Contest. Additionally, a poetry slam open to all is underway.

Even with the Westfield Athenaeum temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, poetry events are happening this month online. (FILE PHOTO)

Even though the Westfield Athenaeum is temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, poetry events are happening online. (FILE PHOTO)

“Poetry is about expression and it’s always beneficial to express yourself,” said Becky Blackburn, public services librarian.

Kate Deviny, Athenaeum director, concurred.

“Poetry allows for the ineffable, the space between what you can’t say and want to say,” said Deviny. “For the reader, it allows for you to fill in the gaps because often the metaphor brings something up for you, uniquely you, yet universally true.”

Blackburn noted she has “loved” poetry since she was a child and a teacher had the class memorize Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees.”

“I wrote tons of really, really terrible angsty poetry all through my teen years,” said Blackburn. “I haven’t written any in years, but I do really enjoy reading poetry still.”

Deviny shared a similar sentiment.

“When I was young, I do remember reading and reciting nursery rhymes,” said Deviny, adding she started writing songs and poetry when she was “about 11 or 12.”

Blackburn explained there are two separate poetry contests – one for adults and one for children and teens – to celebrate April as National Poetry Month.

“Poets will find the guidelines and submission information on our website,,” said Blackburn, noting a short Google form must be completed and then the original poem has to be emailed separately. Due to the pandemic, poems are only being accepted this way. Persons mailing a poem to the Athenaeum or leaving it in the book drop will be disqualified.

“We usually do different poetry centered events during April and The Online Poetry Slam is a fun way to get people reading poetry,” said Blackburn, noting there is a consistent number of poets who enter every year.

For the poetry slam, individuals can read their own poem or another author’s poem.

“We just ask that they not read the poem they have written and are entering in the poetry contest,” said Blackburn. “Poetry slams are just fun, and especially right now doing something that is fun is really important.”

Deviny echoed that sentiment.

“Poetry slams are a great way to be introduced to new poets and poems; it is fun,” said Deviny, adding a few guidelines include “keeping it family friendly.”

“We reserve the right to not post readings that may be offensive, abusive or otherwise inappropriate for our audience,” said Deviny. 

Traditionally, prizes for the poetry contest have been gift cards to a local business.

“This year we will have to find one that is available to send digitally to the winner,” said Blackburn, noting winners will be notified in May.

In related news, Blackburn said with the library temporarily closed due to the pandemic, she is encouraging area residents to check out online offerings.

“We have a very creative and enthusiastic staff that is working all the time on updating and adding to our resources available online,” said Blackburn. “Also, very soon, we will be rolling out a new phone-in reference phone service.”

Blackburn explained that individuals will leave a message and receive a reply by a librarian within 24 hours.

“They can call with any question they’d typically call us for – account questions, reference questions, readers advisory, etc.,” said Blackburn. “We are always looking for ways to serve our patrons, even with the building temporarily closed.”

Deviny agreed.

“The Athenaeum staff has been very concerned about our patrons, patrons we have known for decades,” said Deviny. “The staff has been working very hard to provide entertainment, a laugh, and interesting educational opportunities because we know that is what the library is for.”

Deviny said that once the pandemic struck the city, her team quickly added a website feature on how to keep reading 10 books a week online – since many Athenaeum patrons are avid readers.

“We also put up fun links to keep people occupied or at least distracted in these most unusual circumstances,” said Deviny. “Even while closed, we are scouring the internet to find information that is factual, so that our patrons can continue to rely on us. If patrons email or call, we still answer. We remain committed to be of service to our library family of patrons.”

To Top