History of the William Carlos Williams Poetry Competition
NEOMED’s William Carlos Williams Poetry Competition was founded by Drs. Martin Kohn and Delese Wear in 1982. A call for medical student submissions was issued in the fall of that year and the first awardees were invited to campus to share their work alongside a guest speaker in the spring of 1983.
The competition is named for the iconic American poet and physician William Carlos Williams, who is celebrated for his humanistic and patient-centered values as a practitioner and the spare, imagistic style of his poems like “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “This is Just to Say.” The late Williams’ son ― physician William Eric Williams ― endorsed the naming of NEOMED’s competition for his father in a letter to Dr. Wear, writing:
By all means use my father’s name as a title for your poetry competition.… I’m sure Dad would be happy, not to say proud, to think that there are 224 embryo medices out there sufficiently interested in poetry to submit their work to be judged. I like the tone of the whole thing. Puts me in mind of Robert Coles up in Boston barking up the same tree.
Continued success in your most worthwhile endeavor.
Very truly yours, W.E. Williams M.D.
The competition remains enthusiastically received and nationally renowned. Each year, the competition receives hundreds of entries, which are judged by the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University. The top three prize-winning poems receive a monetary award ($300, $200 and $100 for first, second and third place, respectively) and are considered for publication in the Journal of Medical Humanities. In addition, the winning poets are invited to read their poetry alongside an esteemed guest and receive commendation in a formal awards ceremony at the Health Humanities Consortium’s annual conference in March. Past speakers included physician writers Drs. Rafael Campo, John Stone, Audrey Shafer, Dagan Coppock, David Watts, Jay Baruch and Amit Majmudar, a 2003 NEOMED graduate and Ohio’s first poet laureate. Travel expenses are paid by the Department of Family and Community Medicine.