Photo by Ting’an Lu ’21
Mount Holyoke’s Professor Wesley Yu, who chaired the competition, welcomed poets, judges and audience members with a speech about the event’s historical importance.
BY DURE-MAKNOON AHMED ’20
Mount Holyoke held its 95th Kathryn Irene Glascock ’22 Intercollegiate Poetry Competition on March 23 and 24. Past winners include the likes of Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell and James Merrill. Mount Holyoke alumna Gjertrud Schnackenberg ’75 won the competition twice.
This year Mount Holyoke’s representative Linda Zhang ’20 competed against students from Barnard College, Hunter College, University of Tennessee Chattanooga, Williams College and University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “Anybody from the Mount Holyoke community is able to submit poetry for consideration,” said Zhang.
Continuing last year’s victory for Mount Holyoke, Zhang won the competition with her poem “Lao-san.”
Each year, the Glascock Contest invites three well-known poets to judge the contest. This year’s judges included Donika Kelly, Alicia Ostriker and Joseph Legaspi. In an afternoon called Life and Letters the three poets answered questions about their careers. Mount Holyoke’s Associate Professor of English Iyko Day facilitated the first part of the event, asking the poets questions regarding the poetic process, politics and inspirations.
Associate Professor of English Wesley Yu, who chaired the competition, welcomed attendees. He expressed how “it can sometimes be hard to believe that the paths of so many well-known poets have converged in South Hadley, specifically for this event, for almost a century.” Each performance was roughly 10 minutes long. Some elicited laughter, like the subtly wry poem from Hunter College’s Grayson Wolf titled “Circumlocution” which explored his own wandering thoughts. Barnard student Kyra Spence recited “Vera,” based on the demure image of Vladimir Putin’s ex-wife, and a poem based on the recent Parkland shooting. Sarah Dauer ’20 said Zhang’s poem “Lao-san” “breathed a new air into the room [...] Everyone was engaged with her language and her storytelling.”
Zhang said the piece was “heavily influenced by spoken word and its performative and stylistic elements,” and was a deeply personal and long poem revolving around her identity as a Chinese-American. The title itself references her identity as a third child. She discussed topics ranging from living in a predominantly white area to challenging Chinese cultural norms by cutting her hair. The use of untranslated Chinese characters and the exploration of gender roles in Chinese society were inspired by the poet Maxine Hong Kingston.
“Winning proves to myself that as an Asian American woman, I have a voice, I have things to say, and I can write just as well as the next white author,” said Zhang.
She also discussed how growing up, she did not have many relatable role models, especially in literature or poetry. However, winning this competition gives her new hope. “Winning this competition makes me feel like I’ve become that role model that I would have liked to see when I was growing up.”