In the fall of 2020, 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 2021 National Poetry Month poster.
The 2021 poster, which will help commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of National Poetry Month, will be sent to 100,000 libraries, schools, bookstores, and community centers nationwide and made available by download on Poets.org. It will feature the artwork of one winning student, to be selected by judges Maira Kalman and Renée Watson. View the winning poster from last year's National Poetry Month Poster Competition here.
The Academy of American Poets is excited to share the following eleven finalists in the 2021 National Poetry Month Poster Competition. Thanks again to everyone who submitted! The finalists' artwork, which features excerpts from “For Keeps” by U. S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, is shown below alongside the artist statements the students have provided about their work.
“The piece that I created in response to “For Keeps” is meant to illustrate the whimsical nature of the poem, and the line “Birds are singing the sky into place” in particular. My piece illustrates a literal representation of the line, with the daytime sky flowing from the beaks of songbirds. I decided to focus on the poem's emphasis on the contrast of day and night by limiting my palette to the complimentary colors blue and orange. Lines in the clouds are meant to resemble stanzas, as a nod to the frequent references to music in the poem. The imagery of birds singing the night sky away is slightly evocative of old myths, adding to the whimsy of the illustration. In the end this piece is largely reflective of the feelings I got when reading the poem, I saw the line “nowhere else I want to be..” and illustrated a scene in which I could stay forever. “For Keeps” begins with the sun and ends with the stars, it speaks of mystery and of song. It creates a fantastical picture of the world that the narrator experiences, and it was my goal as an artist and illustrator to capture some of that unspoken mystery and create a piece that evokes similar feelings.”
“The poem “For Keeps”, those two lines in particular, painted the image in my mind of a desert, framed by goliath rock formations and a cloudless sky of piercing blue. I pictured horse and rider as one entity, their bodies and souls intertwined on this journey through time. It was this scene that I endeavored to capture in my piece, and, in doing so, found that it ultimately represents the nature and power of poetry itself. Poetry transports us, provides camaraderie and unity in a world of isolation and divisiveness, so that, similar to the horse and rider, even in the remotest places, we are never alone. Poetry is both an escape from the familiar -- an exploration of the cultures and perspective of others -- and a springboard into the depths of our very selves. The rider depicted emerges from the weighty atmosphere of conventional society and is immersed in an environment some might find hostile, but within it, they find their past and guidance for shaping their future. Thus, I strived to express the lines as part of the individual’s stream of consciousness, giving life, fluidity, and humanity to the words of Harjo’s poem.”
“The more I read this poem, the more I felt drawn to this moment in particular. Not only is it a turning point in the poem’s narrative––it connects the first part of the poem to the second, and bridges the pace change between them––but it is also extremely interesting emotionally. This line spoke of a joyous reunion but also of a certain sadness––why, the reader is led to ask, would they have been separated to begin with? And why did it take so long to find their way back to each other?
In order to convey both sides of this complex line, I decided to illustrate a lighthouse, a tower which shines light onto the sea to help boats find their way back to shore. The concept of the boat paired with the land alludes to the colonization of native lands, but the boat’s relationship with the lighthouse also speaks of yearning and waiting. I also focused on building textures and relationships between the colors I used; you may have noticed that I used a recycled paper texture for the sky and portions of the land and lighthouse, as well as the sea. This visual represents both a return to simpler things and the principles of protection and giving back. I also tried to capture the rhythm of Harjo’s poem using lines in the sky and the sea, and convey the emotional complexity of the original line by juxtaposing the rainclouds with the bright colors of the lighthouse and rocks.”
“I often think of how the world presents itself to me. The world that we inhabit is one of convenience and comfort, but can also be one of detachment and isolation. Love and connection are motivations that I think are very intertwined in my thought process. I find myself fascinated with love, and how that manifests in our daily lives. This may manifest in how we communicate, interact, and form connections. I see love as a catalyst, a guide to help us see our purpose. But there is a cruel irony that I have observed: in an age of infinite connection (whether it's social media, etc), I find that there is a deprivation of human interaction and a struggle to look for a higher meaning of love.
But Joy Harjo’s words radiated an unspeakable nostalgia, it uncovered a distant memory in me that, at one point, slipped away. I began to recount all of my moments of connection and love; I remembered moments where I didn’t trudge through the world but rather ran through it with spirit and conviction. I wanted to capture this tender, yet eager feeling with my oil painting.
Creating this piece, Spacewalker, that can depict both moments of action and stillness in conjunction, is one of my greatest satisfactions in art because it not only questions the attitudes, fears, and unwritten rules that we have formed within our environments; but it also shows the greatness and complexity of the human experience in nuanced and contradicting ways.”
“In my artwork and sketches, I love to showcase nature, my surroundings or environment, and compatibility. This particular artwork has involvement or connection with a poem called “For Keeps” by, Joy Harjo. The poem “For Keeps” represents the true natural basis of earth and how sentimental people, animals, things could be. It allows the sense of being in sync to be seen and relished. I had to select my favorite line in the poem which is “Birds are singing the sky into place,” and make it into an artwork that portrays the feelings or motions of what the words stand for. From my perspective, those words have an emphasis on staying together and caring for each other. So, I decided to draw birds on electric poles which almost everyone has seen before. The mood of this artwork gives a warm pleasant vibe. Birds normally symbolize love, peace, loyalty, and happiness of not being alone. They also have the freedom on earth to wander around and enjoy each other’s company. However, birds have a major impact nature in balancing the world. The color within the birds expresses different meanings. Moreover, in my point of view, I think the electrical poles stand for humans. It’s vital since the birds are resting on it and appreciating the fact that something like that was created by humans, which they took the advantage of to make it their little chilling place. Finally, this artwork simply represents the complexion of our beautiful surroundings.”
“My main inspiration for this design was Disney’s 2002 animated film Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. I watched this movie prior to designing and felt a connection. The film contains renewal, strength, unknowns, and over coming. I feel like this movie reflects the poem in multiple aspects, “Birds are singing the sky into place” (Joy Harjo”For Keeps”Line 3) brings to mind the scene where the main character runs free with the birds as if he himself could fly. One of the most prominent quotes is “We gallop into a warm, southern wind.” (Joy Harjo”For Keeps”Line 6) which brings to mind the protagonist running freely over the land. Towards the end of the poem, also the quote I chose “That night after eating, singing and dancing we lay together under the starts.” (Joy Harjo”For Keeps” Line 11-22) it’s clear the narrator has found a place to rest for the night and after eating, singing, and dancing they went to bed. All of these factors gave me a image of a solemn campsite under the stars. I chose a blue/violet as the main color to express that it’s just after dusk as the stars begin to appear. I also chose a consistent blue theme so the complementary color orange of the fire and highlights would catch your attention as soon as u saw the poster while also allowing the type to be just a legible and seen from a distance.”
“The art piece I created is of two people laying on the ground at night time, stargazing together. I drew this image completely by hand using Procreate on the iPad. I selected two lines from the poem, For Keeps, that states “We lay together under the stars. We know ourselves to be part of mystery.” (Lines 12-13). These lines from the poem discusses two or more people laying together and admiring the beauty of the stars. As well as how their lives play into the universe which is referring to them identifying themselves as part of mystery. I really enjoyed this concept of being a part of something bigger and extraordinary. When I read the poem, I could easily visualize what this scene would look like which is exactly what I drew. Overall, I spent probably around four or five hours on this piece because I wanted it to be realistic yet still have an colorful and imaginable factor for younger students.”
“The Poem “For Keeps,” written by Joy Harjo, is a short story focused around taking notice of the little things around you and absorbing it as it is. Throughout the day, our narrator travels by following their heart, taking notice of the weather and life around them as they went. When they find where they were going, they celebrate, feeling as if they should have done this sooner. Laying under the stars, our narrator rests, content to be a part of the world and acknowledging that they may never understand it. At least, this is how I interpret it. The piece I had created inspired by the poem takes from the imagery of a clear, starry night and one of the last lines, being “We know ourselves to be part of mystery.” The night portion of the inspiration is obvious, as the drawing portrays the sky dotted with stars, but the phrase mentioned prior has more of a tone-based influence. The overall mood of the poem is a calm feeling, accepting to all and free. However, this holds a slightly different context when the “mystery” is mentioned. I took it as if the narrator and their associate have come to terms with their existence, and may have overcome a feeling of loneliness through each other. The narrator believes it to be forever, much greater than themself, and I wanted to convey that using proportions and color. Making the characters in the poster take up less space makes them smaller in comparison to the sky and the canyon creates a larger sense of scale. This also brings less focus to them, making them more of an afterthought when someone looks at the piece in its entirety. The color palette also establishes a positive tone, one which has no hushed tones and generally dark and vibrant colors, with exception for the cliffs. Their salmon color gives off a contrast which brings out the deep blues of the sky, and brightens the piece as a whole. All in all, the poster design is meant to reflect that of the poem, bringing a summer night with lush grass and a sky filled with stars to life.”
“This artwork includes these lines of poetry from “For Keeps” by Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo: “…We know ourselves to be part of mystery…”. This painting that I have made is mixed media, including colored pencils, chalk, pastels, watercolors, gouache, ink, and some digital elements. The painting mainly reflects the second and third lines of the poem, in which there are green plants emerging from the earth, and birds that sing the sky into place. Another line of the poem that inspired this piece would be, “There is nowhere else I want to be but here.” This line inspired the artwork, as I tried to depict a place that I would want to be. I loved the way this poem expressed the setting, as it seemed to describe a place I wished to go. I always enjoy spending as much time as possible in green spaces. The green in this painting represents the sunlight that is filtering through the canopy of the trees. The deep blue in this painting is there as the bits of sky that you could see peaking through the trees and their branches. The birds that are drawn with chalk are placed in varying positions and heights, and are shown as a pattern as if they were part of the sky while holding it up with their songs. The wisps of light that are scattered within the piece are also drawn with chalk, and represent the stars that were mentioned in the twelfth line of the poem.”
“When I first read Joy Harjo’s poem “For Keeps”, I was captured by the line “I lean into the rhythm of your heart to see where it will take us.” This line inspired me to create an artwork based on my interpretation of Harjo’s words. First, to mimic the feeling of rhythm, I had the idea to illustrate a human heart surrounded by a busy, moving body of water such as a river or an ocean. To create that feeling, I layered ripped up paper in a color gradient throughout the background of the poster. This also ties into the nature imagery that appears throughout the rest of the poem. As I was creating this part of the piece, I decided to blend the water into the land, which then blends into the fading sunset and night sky. This abstract landscape acts as a background for my poster but it also allows me to incorporate where I imagine “the heart will take us”.
To make the text stand out from the rest of the artwork, I knew I had to find papers with a bold enough font to create contrast. Luckily, I found two separate papers that had roughly the same font, style, and size, as well as the same color background and the same color text. The slight variation in size and capitalization of the letters makes it feel more incorporated with the background, as it provides for some rhythm and movement within the text. Also, to ensure that it didn’t get lost within the colorful background, I made sure to choose a text that was black and white.”
“When I read this poem, I immediately reflected on my own experiences with nature. This poem is very centered around the connection between people and nature. Each time when I had felt most in tune with the beauty and immensity of nature was in the night, so I decided that my drawing would take place in the middle of the night. The experience of looking upwards into the pitch-black sky and just seeing the stars spread out above oneself is one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences that a person can have with nature. I wanted to show that experience with my artwork, and hopefully, the viewer can understand the power and beauty of the night. A line of the poem states “we know ourselves to be part of mystery.” This line especially resonates with me because in the dark of the night, suddenly the rest of the world fades away, and we can see the complexity and mysteries that surround us. We humans still know so little about the world around us, and only in the night do we fully recognize that. This poem acknowledges that despite how alone we can be in the world, we can form meaningful relationships that surpass the boundaries of language. In my drawing, at first glance, the two beings seem lonely and isolated in the dark of night, but upon deeper inspection, the person and the horse are companions who are truly appreciating nature together.”