Eakin wins Project Poet, declared Poet Laureate of Spadra Valley

Release Date: 10/19/2011

After an intense hour-long, last-round competition, junior art major Dylan Eakin walked away the winner of the sixth annual Project Poet competition.

"It was my first year to do Project Poet," said Eakin, who also won in week three of the contest. "My brother Ben participated when he was in school here and won in 2009. That's part of the reason I felt compelled to participate."

Eakin said although he wrote poetry in high school, his work in Project Poet was the first poetry he'd written in college. "Right now my plan for the $500 first prize money is to fund a trip to see my best friend in Texas for Halloween," he said. "I wanted to go last year but just didn't have the money. Now I do."

Dylan Eakin reading at Project Poet.

Dylan Eakin reads one of his poems during the final round of the "Project Poet" competition. Eakin took first place and earned the title of Poet Laureate of Spadra Valley.

For the finale, the three remaining contestants - Jessica Bowen, Dylan Eakin, and Tanner Holman - were required to write four poems in forms of their own choosing on four different topics: one about love, one about nature, one about faith, and one about society. As 3rd place winner, Bowen received $125, and Holman came in 2nd place with $250. On October 11, David Pluebell received $50 and a copy of the Collected Works of Richard Wilbur for coming in at 5th place, and Stephen Kennedy received $75 and his own copy of Wilbur for coming in 4th.

What was it like to participate in the six-week competition? "Terrifying," said Eakin. "You're told it gets to be an intense competition, and you don't really sense it when you're writing the poetry, and then you get up there and start performing and you realize, wow, this is going to be difficult. When I heard the first poem read last night I knew then that it wasn't going to be a piece of cake. It never was, actually."

He said it was difficult to focus on the other poets when they're reading - to be a good audience - when you also have to focus on your own work. "In the first few rounds of Project Poet, you're just in it to be in it," he said. "I never really expected to get past the first round, but then when you get through one round after another and you get closer and closer to the end and maybe being the winner, suddenly you have to accept that this really is a competition."

The best part of competing was performing, he said, and reading the poetry to an audience. "The worst part was writing it. Some challenges were such that you don't want anything to do with 'em." He laughed. "The formal verse and the 'mystical creature' poem in particular come to mind."

Having family members who write has been a motivation for Eakin. "My dad is a prolific short story writer, and my brother has always been a writer," he said. "Over the years I myself have tried novels, maybe a few short stories. It's all just something you feel like you have to do."

Interestingly, Eakin has become an art major since transferring to Ozarks and says he thinks he'll be "weaning himself off" his past writing efforts. "Writing was a big thing to me in high school and after," he said, "but now I'm finding myself really drawn more toward the visual arts, so to speak. Sculpture is my favorite medium. Clay. I'm working toward faces and bodies next. Last semester it was all about the pottery."

He said he had no idea he'd become an art major. "In the spring semester of my freshman year I started sketching a lot," he said, "doing a lot of drawings. I'd been doing that for play on and off since junior high school, but now I started drawing seriously and realized I might have a knack for it."

Though he may be changing media for his art, Eakin does have advice for future contestants in Project Poet. "If you're performing, speak clearly," he said, "and if you have a deep voice, practice that deep voice. Carry yourself with confidence. Actually I wrote something at the top of the pages of poems I was reading from the other night, and I think it's good advice: 'Approach with modesty, perform with confidence.' I think that's it."

Based on Bravo TV's program "Project Runway," the "Project Poet" competition presents contestants with a new challenge each week. Contestants read their entries before the panel of three faculty/staff judges, and the audience, who acts as the fourth judge. When all votes are tallied, one contestant wins immunity for the next week's challenge, while two or three others go "out of print." The contestants who make it through to each successive round are given more difficult challenges as the competition progresses.

Thanks go out to university president Dr. Rick Niece and First Lady Sherée, who donated the prize money for this season's competition. Thanks also to the judges who evaluated the events and helped choose the winners: Bruce Brown, Karen Frank, Sharon Gorman, Jamie Hedges, Elissa Heil, Phyllis Johnson, Mikael Lindström, Heather McFarland, Michael McManus, Patrick Morgan, Ben Myers, Amy Oatis, Steve Oatis, and Jesse Weiss.

Below are three poems Eakin read in the winning round:

Love
Copyright 2011 Dylan Eakin

Now, I know a thing or two about love.
I'm freaking twenty years old,
A time that has more than adequately prepared
This seasoned soul of the complexities of adoration.
I know what it's like to be with someone.
I've had like three girlfriends since junior high!
And I know just what it takes to have a long-term relationship.
I dated this chick for six months!
I know exactly how to please a woman.
So finely-tuned, this instrument of pleasure,
I'll challenge Don Juan to a duel.
I know exactly what love is.
I can maintain a marriage.
Divorce rates are high,
But I know I'm different. I know it's destiny.
We will last through the ages.
I know just how to care for a child.
I've done a few babysitting gigs in my career.
It's the simplest thing in the world! Who says it's stressful?
I can care for a child.
I know I can take care of us. My will is strong, my income reliable.
Wal-mart practically begs me to work for them.
I think we've got this figured out,
Got all my bases covered.
This love thing's a piece of cake,
No time to think of what's at stake.

Unfilled
Copyright 2011 Dylan Eakin

I see the mountains a million miles away, distant in their snow-capped splendor, smothered in mist.
They slip beneath a bend in the road
I travel the highway, traipsing through desert, the tundra too dry for a tree.
The air blasts, a fiery furnace.
My companion points to the red, rocky canyons.
We laugh at the radio, ringing with rhythm.
Our liberty lies linked, with our hands.
The mountains in mist await us.

Untitled
Copyright 2011 Dylan Eakin

I wish I could believe that somewhere omnipotence is watching and keeping me safe;
That when I die, some type of existence continues outside of this body.
I wish I could believe.
I wish I could trust in the power of love, that it prevails when all else fails.
I wish it was enough.
I wish I had your conviction, your devotion, your will to make a change.
The faith you hold is in all people, you hold them deep in your heart.
I want to know that feeling. I want us all to know it.
I wish I believed that we could make it,
That people could look after people and not simply their own person.
I wish I believed that in the absence of law, if we lacked religion,
That we could still miraculously manage
To hold this fragile world together, this world of people,
This world in the cosmos. Our unbelievable world.