. . . about the History and Future of the National Annual

1993 through 2003

The first Senior Poet Laureate Poetry Competition was held in 1993. It was co-founded by Vera-Jane Goodin and Wanda Sue Parrott, two freelance editors/reporters who worked part-time for Senior Pages Newspapers published by Steve Wentworth; headquarters were in Springfield, Missouri. Vera-Jane was editor of the Springfield edition; Wanda Sue was editor of the Joplin edition. They shared office space at 305 E. Walnut St., Springfield, where a file cabinet rapidly filled with unsolicited poetry from poets within the reading area: the 4-state Ozarks Mountain region comprised of Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

The first Senior Poet Laureate contest in 1993 was strictly regional and was intended to invite poetry submissions. The best poem would receive the award and publication; then, all poetry could be thrown out and the file space made available for other use. There was no entry fee, and no monetary award offered, but the winner would get a certificate and a profile would be published in the newspapers for readers age 55 and older.

Readers Wanted More

The contest was intended to be a one-time event; however, it was so popular with readers, who wanted another Senior Poet Laureate contest, that the co-founders decided to sponsor such an event themselves, since Steve Wentworth, publisher, was not interested in dedicating free space to non-revenue-producing material. Thus, in 1994 the second such contest was held as a joint effort of Goodin Communications (Vera-Jane's business) and Penny Peephole Publications (Wanda Sue's business).

In 1994, in order to obtain financing to sustain the contest, a $1 fee for each submission was added; so was a free chapbook entitled GOLDEN WORDS, which was sent to each winner. Categories were added: rhymed and unrhymed poetry. Unknown to the co-founders, they had kicked off a tradition that would sweep around the country—and the world.

Kicked Off with Help from NFSPS

With the help of STROPHES, the newsletter of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies (NFSPS), publicity about the contest for poets age 55 (later lowered to 50) and older was published nationally, and the contest began to draw responses from across the country and also from American poets living abroad. Adding categories over the years helped increase submissions, and by the time the co-sponsorship came to an end in 2003, there were 12 categories, and a $10 award for each winner, plus $60 for the best-overall-poem's author who also got the National Senior Poet Laureate title.

In 2002, papers were filed with the Missouri Secretary of State to establish the National Senior Poet Laureate Foundation, a non-profit corporation. The records mysteriously disappeared and the Secretary of State advised that because the registration was not renewed in 2003 it had been dissolved at the same time Vera-Jane decided to retire.

The Partnership is Dissolved

After producing the 2003 GOLDEN WORDS, Vera-Jane retired so she could marry photographer John Schultz. Wanda Sue decided to continue as contest administrator by sponsoring the contest under her own non-profit literary organization, Amy Kitchener's Angels Without Wings Foundation, which was legally incorporated in the state of Missouri on July 31, 2001. Thus ended the partnership between Vera-Jane Goodin and Wanda Sue Parrott, during which eleven Senior Poet Laureate Contests were produced and ten volumes of GOLDEN WORDS were published.

More Love than Money

Running the annual contests, from the first publicity that appeared in January through the final copy of GOLDEN WORDS that was mailed in December, took a full year during which the partners worked part-time and kept records we are sharing here to show how an idea whose time has come just keeps on growing.

Poetry is known as both a hobby and luxury only the senior segment of society can afford. And everyone has heard reference to “starving poets.” Poetry is also known as the highest form of literature. Regardless of what it is or is not, here are the facts and figures gleaned from the first 10-year period of Senior Poet Laureate Contest history in which Vera-Jane and Wanda Sue were business partners.

Year Number of Poems
1993 85
1994 128
1995 306
1996 634
1997 670
1998 864
1999 733
2000 1,002
2001 1,257
2002 1,300
2003 765
Total 7,744
(at $1 per poem)
7,744 poems - 85 non-fee entries$ 7,659 total
$ 7,659 -& 7,000 $ 659 Net Income (estimated)
Average income spread over 10 years: $65.90 per year total for contests
Split between Goodin & Parrott: $32.95 each net income per year*
Monthly income per partner $ 2.75 average net income per month per year*
*Estimate may be high, which is why poets must be rich enough to
dabble with dedication or poor-but-inspired enough to survive on love.

The bottom line, practically speaking, is that since poetry usually pays a pittance, if it pays at all, careers as poets do not beckon to young people just entering the job market unless they become teachers whose curricula include poetry writing. On the opposite end of the job-related spectrum, however, elders who didn't spend their free time playing golf, traveling or tatting in their rockers, simply amazed Vera-Jane and Wanda Sue, who recognized them as America's late-blooming golden treasures.

Golden minds produced golden words in the so-called golden years. Not only were older poets wise and witty, those on fixed retirement incomes could afford to put pen to paper and become poets.

2004 through 2009

After Vera-Jane retired as a partner in 2003, she became a Director on the board of Amy Kitchener's Angels Without Wings Foundation. The foundation became new sponsor of the contest and the Senior Poet Laureate contest entered a revolutionary and evolutionary phase of change that continues today.

Wanda experimented by renaming it Senior Poets Laureate Poetry Competition for American poets age 50 and older. Although there was still just one national laureate-award winner, each states and territory represented by entries qualified for a State Senior Poet Laureate award winner. Other special awards were sometimes added, along with Honor Scroll awards for poets whose poems passed the first round of judging but did not make it to the finals.

Financing the Awards

For the first few contests after Vera-Jane's retirement, a National Senior Poet Laureate Award was given to the writer of the best overall poem, with a National Senior Poet Laureate Runner Up Award going to the next-best poem, and the cash being split. Amount of the award was determined by the income from entries.

The runner-up category was eliminated in 2008 in order to give the national laureate-level winner a guaranteed substantial cash prize. So, from 1993, when John L. Mullins, the first Senior Poet Laureate, won only a certificate and publication in the Ozarks Senior Pages Newspapers, the award rose from $10 in the 1990s to $60 in 2003 and on to $500 in 2009.

The first SPL contest in 1993 cost nothing to enter. In 1994, when Vera-Jane and Wanda Sue took it out of the newspaper office and made it their private endeavor, they began charging a $1 entry fee. In 2004, Wanda Sue Parrott raised the fee to $3 per page. Entries dropped dramatically, but have slowly climbed. At the peak during the first 10-year period of the competition, slightly more than 1300 entries came.

Facing the Future

This year's 712 entries at $3 per entry marked the first time in the contest's 17-year history that SPL ended with a substantial enough balance to finance the publication of GOLDEN WORDS anthology online, without seeking subscription fees or any other type of financial support, from our poet friends.

Contributions are always welcome, since the contest is solely self-supporting from entry fees and donations.

However, donations may no longer be tax deductible, because Amy Kitchener's Angels Without Wings non-profit literary foundation was dissolved as of August 31, 2009 after Wanda Sue Parrott moved to California.

If you are a potential donor, we suggest you discuss the matter with your tax specialist because you might not be able to claim such a donation as a tax deduction for your 2009 income taxes.

As this electronic edition of GOLDEN WORDS goes to press in September 2009, the 74-year old sponsor reports a $340 balance in the Senior Poets Laureate section of her now-personal Wanda Sue Parrott Literary Fund checking account which she is maintaining until a decision has been reached about whether she will reincorporate or retire.

1993 through 2009

1993 JOHN L. MULLINSSpringfield, Missouri
1994 JOAN GILBERTHallsville, Missouri
1995 WALTER D. KINGSpringfield, Missouri
1996 REGINA MURRAY BRAULTBurlington, Vermont
1997 DELPHINE LeDOUXSacramento, California
1998 JOAN RITTYWadsworth, Ohio
1999 EMERY L. CAMPBELL Lawrenceville, Georgia
2000 REESE DANLEY-KILGOHuntsville, Alabama
2001 HELEN F. BLACKSHEARMontgomery, Alabama
2002 DAN RUSTINYonkers, New York
2004 BARBARA RUTH SAMPSONStockbridge, Georgia
2005 CLAUDE BLACKWOODMemphis, Tennessee
P. J. ROBERTS, Runner UpRockport, Massashusetts
2006 KENNETH ROLLERDadeville, Missouri
IDA FASEL, Runner UpDenver, Colorado
2007 JANE LOGANSparks, Nevada
DEWELL H. BYRD, Runner UpEureka, California
2008 MIKE GULLICKSONBurnet, Texas
2009 PATRICIA FROLANDERSundance, Wyoming

To read . . . SCANSION ... editorial by Wanda Sue Parrott click OPENING
To read . . . SCANSION ... about the Contest click FAQs
To read . . . SCANSION ... about the Poets click POETS
To read . . . SCANSION ... about the Judging click JUDGES
To read . . . SCANSION ... how to contact us click CONTACT
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