Thu. May 26th, 2022

The Iris N. Spencer Poetry Awards — a series of awards open to undergraduate poets enrolled in a U.S. college or university — are an achievement bestowed by the West Chester University (WCU) Poetry Center on an annual basis. For the 2022 awards, a collective number of 12 winners/honorable mentions were awarded and recognized. Of these 12 individuals, two winners come from West Chester University: Cassidy Graham, winner of the Villanelle category with her piece, “Villanelle of Addiction,” and Tesia Wieprecht, second place winner of the Iris N. Spencer Award and first place winner of Myong Cha Son Haiku Award, with her pieces “Ghazal for Your Fingers” and “A Very Serious Haiku,” respectively.

The Iris N. Spencer Awards ceremony took place on April 6, 2022. The Spencer family, poet and judge of the 2022 Spencer Awards Annie Finch, the 2022 Spencer Awards winners from various universities, as well as the winners’ peers and loved ones were among those in attendance. 

Established in 2005, The Spencer Awards were created by Kean and Kyle Spencer in remembrance of their late mother, Iris Spencer, who at this year’s award ceremony was described to be an “ardent reader and community servant.” The Spencer Awards not only promote formal poetry within the poetry community, but work to support the up and coming generation of poets. Through these awards, the WCU Poetry Center can pursue its mission: to further encourage the craft and study of poetry, as well as expand the reach of the Center nationwide.

Included under the Iris N. Spencer Awards umbrella are the following undergraduate awards: the Iris N. Spencer Undergraduate Award, the Myong Cha Son Haiku Award and the Rhina P. Espaillat Award, as well as the recently added Villanelle Award and Sonnet Award.

Following this year’s award ceremony, I got the pleasure to speak with two-time national Iris N. Spencer Poetry Awards winner, Tesia Wieprecht.

As previously mentioned, Wieprecht is a recipient of both the Iris N. Spencer award and the Myong Cha Son Haiku Award. The former is titled “Ghazal For Your Fingers,” which Wieprecht describes as being about “a lover dying, and the speaker mourning that through their love language of touch, specifically their touching hands.” The latter is titled “A very serious haiku,” which Wieprecht thought to be a fitting namesake. She “wanted to make it clear the haiku was meant to be fun, capturing a moment of teenage rebellion.” 

In addition to her two awards, Wieprecht received an honorable mention for the Iris N. Spencer Award category with her piece “Cento for the songs that transcend reality.”

Wieprecht, upon hearing the news of her wins, was filled with excitement. “I first found out I’d won [the Myong Cha Son Haiku Award] from my teacher, Nancy Pearson, who (she later told me) had insisted on being the first to congratulate me. In her email, she told me I’d won the award for my haiku, and I immediately thought, ‘Oh, wow, this is amazing!’ My next thought was, ‘Okay, but which one?’ I had submitted three haikus: two more serious, and this one. I’m glad I was home alone at the time, because when I saw it was this one, the scream I let out was a little ungodly, and I just couldn’t stop laughing. From shock, mostly, but also because the poem is far from the traditional content of a haiku. Either way, I’m incredibly honored to receive the Myong Son Cha Haiku Award for this poem,” said Wieprecht. 

“[Upon finding out I won the Iris N. Spencer Award,] I was thrilled and excited! But also shocked because I found out my haiku won first, and then there was this other, new level of shock as I kept reading the email. This is a big competition, and I was (and am) honored to have won even one award, but two? That about knocked me flat.”

When asked about the development of “A very serious haiku,” Wieprecht expressed that it was the result of a prompt provided in class by Professor Pearson — to create a haiku from the listed words. “The prompt I chose had the words ‘bare’ and ‘handlebars’ in it, and my mind immediately came up with the middle line of the haiku, which incidentally had precisely seven syllables already,” said Wieprecht. “And with such a clear image in my head, I was able to build the rest of the haiku around that.” Her favorite line from the piece is “Definitely the middle line, ‘bare ass on the handlebars.’ :).”

In regards to her piece “Ghazal For Your Fingers,” Wieprecht admitted that she ran into some difficulties while writing. “I typically struggle with form… I think that repetition of ‘your hands’ made me think more deeply about this couple’s relationship, and helped me put different, more sensory details in than I maybe would have normally.”

“Shallower breaths. What in death really leaves? / How much of me can you feel through your fingers?are her favorite lines of the ghazal, due to playing with the different ways ‘ea’ can sound, as well as the action of asking difficult questions. She thinks about those lines often,” said Wieprecht. She added, “The mourning speaker gets pretty philosophical there.”

When asked about the subject of poetry and her favorite forms of writing, Wieprecht stated, “Poetry has its time and place in my life. It can be really cathartic, and something to come back to when prose writing feels too daunting — which is often. I mainly write prose in my free time, but that’s harder to manage while I’m in college, so poetry is more accessible for me most of the time. I do prefer prose when I’m not in school, though. I can be pretty verbose, and poetry is less forgiving of that.”

Her inspiration to write is “everything, but most often the daydreams [she has] while [she’s] meant to be doing other things.”

For aspiring poets and writers, Wieprecht has this to say: “I’ve said this to people in the past, and it continues to be my best bit of advice: have your computer read your poem/piece aloud to you. If a machine can make it sound natural, you’ve done a good job.”

A thank you to Wieprecht for speaking with me, and congratulations to both Wieprecht and Graham on their poetry accomplishments. For more information regarding the Iris N. Spencer Awards, visit the West Chester University Poetry Center’s page on wcupa.edu.


Julien Padillo is a fourth-year Media & Culture major. JP913571@wcupa.edu

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