In the fall of 2019, the Academy of American Poets, the originator and organizer of National Poetry Month, invited students in grades 9 through 12 to enter artwork to be considered for the official April 2020 National Poetry Month poster. The 2020 poster, which is sent to 100,000 libraries, schools, bookstores, and community centers nationwide and made available by download on Poets.org, will feature a high school student's winning artwork. (View the winning poster from last year's inaugural National Poetry Month Poster Contest here.)
The Academy of American Poets is excited to share the following ten finalists in the 2020 National Poetry Month Poster Contest. Thank you, again, to everyone who submitted! The finalists' artwork, which features excerpts from a poem by U. S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, is shown here alongside excerpts from statements the students have provided about their work.
“After reading through the poem I gravitated towards the line ‘Remember the sky you were born under.’ I believed that it captured the feeling of loneliness, but also hinted at a yearning for belonging. My piece relates to individuality and loneliness in contrast to larger groups represented as distant forms. With all of these ideas, I wanted to capture a sort of sad hopefulness. The smaller forms are metaphors for a state of wanting. The larger forms represent my protagonists’ goals; they represent a state of kinship and acceptance that the smaller forms desire. It works well with the minimalistic style because it allows the audience to relate their own experiences to the piece, just as I found my own meaning from the poem.... I wanted all of the details in the piece to help service the color and composition. The result was a subtle and solemn piece that captures the feelings of loneliness and belonging that I derived from the text provided.”
“This sentence from the poem ‘Remember’ by Joy Harjo was meaningful to me because the message often becomes lost in everyday life. It is easy to get stuck in the linear routines of work, school, weather, and to-do lists. It’s important to enjoy the spontaneous nature of living. Because the meaning of this sentence is so dynamic, I struggled with finding the way it should be conveyed. I contemplated writing the sentence on index cards, cardboard and paper leaves, and ultimately decided on ‘tree cookies,’ as my family calls them, because they seemed like the most natural option: they vary in size, are somewhat round, come from the forest, and they could hang freely, not fixed and at different heights. It was windy the day the words were hung up, and they moved a little when the photo was taken. It felt appropriate that they were tilted at different angles because it showed the natural element of being outside on a fall day, and it didn’t feel manufactured or staged. It looked almost as if the words appeared overnight on their own in the tree.”
“I wanted to show that because we, as humans, are so small in this unknowingly infinite universe, the only thing that we can know is ourselves. And because all we know is ourselves, we are our universe. I showed this idea through my art by drawing a person in the center of the work staring out into the deep galaxy. This galaxy and himself is all he will ever know; this small chunk of the universe that he can see. And yet, taking a step back, the zentangles and planets twirling out beneath him show the true reality and scope of the universe. But he will never live or know that universe, he will only know what his own universe is. All that we know is ourselves, therefore we are the universe. I depicted the person using white lines and no filling to show the universe in ourselves even if we don’t realize it’s there. The white lines seem so ephemeral, and at the same time concrete and blockish. These lines go to show that although humans are short lived and small, our existence is something real and concrete, Our knowledge of our universe is something that cannot be denied.”
“In ‘Remember,’ Harjo writes about the plants, trees, and animal life who are all part of the same ecosystem. Native American beadwork inspired me to create the particular art style seen in the painting, as this art form traditionally used nature to create masterpieces. It reminds me of nature’s history, but instead of wampum shell and turquoise beads, dollops of paint form the shapes of flowers and animals. To honor Harjo and her culture, each plant and animal in my painting is significant in Mvskoke/Creek Nation culture or in her home state, Oklahoma. At the top of the canvas is an eagle, portrayed as powerful and sacred. It works together with a bluebird, cardinal, and scissor-tailed flycatcher— Oklahoma’s state bird— to carry the message of the poem: to remember the importance of each plant and animal that contributes to the ecosystem. In the bottom left-hand corner of the painting, indian blanket flowers bloom next to clusters of black-eyed susans and stalks of blue wild indigo. A swallowtail butterfly perches on a thistle flower next to a prairie dog resting in the open meadow, while a few honeybees fly around the flowers. Some of these ‘alive poems’ are Oklahoman state symbols; all of them are integral to the ecosystem.”
“To begin with, the lines ‘Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their tribes, their families, their histories, too,’ made me immediately think of a way to unify all of those elements. I started to think about what those elements have in common. They are all elements that make up the earth. so I used the earth to represent the plants, trees, and animals in my artwork. The idea of incorporating a person into my piece was inspired by the next line, ‘Talk to them, listen to them.’ I used a woman specifically because I feel women are the strongest influence on the world. With this in mind, I choose a woman of color because I came from a woman of color, and I wanted to show how I could relate to the poem. In addition to this, every person has come from a woman, so I was able to draw a connection between the reader and all of humanity. I decided that I wanted the woman to be speaking to the earth and all the life within it. With the idea of her talking to earth I needed a way to show her voice traveling around the world, for this reason I used the white trails to show the movement. For the last line ‘They are alive poems,’ I used the white trails of cloud to show her voice traveling around the world.”
“I wanted to create this poster to not only broaden the depiction of Joy Harjo’s work, but also to honor her as an indigenous writer. I based her outfit in my drawing off of articles of clothing that she has worn in real life, and was sure to make the details on her hand tattoo as accurate as possible.... Far too often, I think that when we see a piece of writing, we sometimes forget that there is a whole other human behind that work, that this piece was somebody’s labor of love.
The visibility of a writer is very important, especially for women and people of color. Repeatedly they have been undervalued and neglected by their society, and history has pushed them into the sidelines where they were not allowed to exercise their potential. They were not allowed to take up space. They were never granted the same opportunities for writing. In essence, their voices were taken away.... We must take strides to put people like Joy Harjo in the spotlight, because they are breaking the boundaries set against them. They are reclaiming their voices. Doing so will inspire an entire generation of future writers to travel down the path paved by female or POC writers who came before them.”
“The girl in the picture has her eyes closed because she is remembering and enjoying the feeling of life. I use flowers and plants to represent life and slowly the flowers and plants develop into the planet and then the universe, proving that all life is born from you. I like to paint non-realistic works, because it will make me feel that I am creating a new world—flowers and plants are already their own world, but, when I integrate girls and flowers and the universe into a whole, a bigger and a more diverse world forms. But, no matter how big the world is, it all derived from you.”
“Since the lines of poetry I chose dealt with one’s personal relationship to nature and the universe, it was absolutely essential to me to incorporate a human figure. The image of the carefree girl floating among the stars embodies my interpretation of the lines ‘know each of the star’s stories’— she has her finger up as if she is about to speak to those very stars. Her expression is calm and serene because she is totally at home in her cosmic environment. I was thinking specifically about the line ‘remember the sky that you were born under.’ I imagined a child literally born in the sky. The moon and stars are her family, and she knows them well. I tried to show this through her character design as well, with her long magical powder-blue hair and clothing that is inspired by but doesn’t quite fit with any historical period here on Earth. The stylized figure and hair, and the stars and moon fit well with the bright color palette. I wanted my portrayal of space to seem friendly and inviting, with lots of warm tones, not like a dark void. This fits with the poem, which encourages the reader to find their place in the universe and to understand it.”
“This line really stood out to me because it reminded me of the freedom I felt with art and why I love drawing. Give an artist a sentence and they can interpret it a million different ways. I remembered how blissful it felt to let your imaginations run far and into outer space and being alone with all of your wildest dreams. It multiplies, leaving you blooming with excitement on what to create next-- because you are the universe, and you get to create your universe. I love creating my own characters, magical environments, and filling the blank canvas with every color on the spectrum. In this particular piece, I wanted to capture the dreamlike feeling by using the pastel blue-pink combo but to prevent it from being too plain, I brought in some contrast by using deep, saturated blues and purples for shading which creates a rich and vibrant color range that creates a gentle ombre. To keep more attention to what’s inside the helmet, I intentionally made the design of the astronaut suit very simple and opposite to the elements inside of the helmet.”
“The lines of poetry drifting in the air in my artwork symbolize the passing of traditions from generation to generation. The ‘stars’ represent the ideas and values of the past. The stars remain in the sky forever, looking down on the newer generation of stars always. When reading ‘Remember’ by Joy Harjo for the first time, I thought of the importance of remembering and learning from the past’s mistakes. A way my family and I practice this is by celebrating holidays such as Chinese New Year. During the fifteen days of the holiday, we burn folded paper to our ancestors, make lanterns, and spend time with our family. By doing this, we show that we are thankful to path that our ancestors worked so hard to create.... Only by learning about our past, will we be able to be our best selves in the present.”