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''Picking'' the Best: BC Student Wins Prize for Poetry

With his poem "Picking Mushrooms," Robert Campbell, a sophomore English major from Lexington, Ky., recently won first place in the Sarabande Student Poetry Competition.

Robert Campbell with Sarah Gorham, editor-in-chief of Sarabande Books.

Sarabande Books, the sponsor of the contest, is a nonprofit literary press located in Louisville, Ky., that publishes poetry, essays and short fiction. For first place, Campbell received a $500 prize and 50 broadsides of his winning poem, which is posted on the Sarabande website. Campbell was also invited to read his poem aloud at a small celebration held for the winners of the competition.

Campbell, who is majoring in English with a concentration in writing, is not new to the world of words. He currently works as a consultant at the Learning Center, and played a substantial role in organizing the new Berea College literary journal, Carillon. BCNow caught up with Campbell to ask him some questions about his writing, his feelings about winning the Sarabande competition and his advice for other writers.

BCNow: Why did you choose to submit your work to Sarabande's contest?

Campbell: Vicky Hayes, one of my supervisors at the Learning Center, set out some fliers about the competition. If she hadnít taken the time to point this out, I probably would not have submitted my work at all.

BCNow: How do you feel about winning first place?

Campbell: From the moment I got the call from Sarabande, I started acting like a complete fool. I think I told Sarah Gorham, the editor-in-chief, that I wanted to kiss her over the phone.

BCNow: Have you submitted your poetry to competitions before?

Campbell: I have been submitting my work whenever and wherever I can for the past year.

BCNow: Do you plan to enter more writing competitions in the future?

Campbell: Absolutely.

BCNow: How long have you been writing?

Campbell: Iíve been writing since I was very young, but I donít really believe that people are ďborn to write.Ē

BCNow: Why do you write?

Campbell: I started writing consistently as a sort of meditative act, just a way of dealing, really, with life.

BCNow: Why poetry? Have you written in any other medium?

Campbell: Poetry is a little more careful, a little more tedious than other forms. I like poetry because the words and phrases fit together like puzzle pieces. You have a little more power and control over the English language in poetry. I try to experiment as much as possible with other forms of writing, but poetry is really my home. I feel most comfortable there.

BCNow: What themes or ideas do you usually explore in your writing?

Campbell: When I sit down with my notebook, I usually do a free-write. Free-writing is all about mindfulness for me. I write what I see and what I feel; I narrate whatís happening to me and the people around me.

BCNow: What was the inspiration for your winning poem, "Picking Mushrooms"?

Campbell: The poem was inspired by a friend of mine. Her grandfather developed cancer this fall, and we went picking a type of wild mushroom, called ďchicken of the woodsĒ, to take our mind off of things.

BCNow: What do you hope to do after you graduate?/What are your future plans?

Campbell: I have no clue. At first, I wanted to find an MFA program in Creative Writing, but sometimes Iím terrified of launching myself headfirst into the academic job market. Regardless of what graduate study I pursue, I will write.

BCNow: Do you have any advice for aspiring poets and writers?

Campbell: I still refer to myself as an aspiring poet sometimes. I donít know anything that other writers donít. But I think itís important to keep writing and keep sending your work out there. Everybody gets rejected. Thatís just a sad fact. If you always have a submission pending, though, it can take the sting out of those big rejections. The most important thing is to keep writing, regardless. Thatís what a writer does.

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