Bartow resident Jenna Keeler is planning a career in a more modern entertainment medium than one for which she recently won a statewide award.

Nevertheless, the recent Cass High School graduate said she probably will keep writing poetry — and may even try to publish some of her work — between studying for a degree in game design from Georgia State University.

“I would love to publish a poetry book someday,” she said.

Keeler, with her poem “love letter to the girl I will be,” was among four finalists in the sixth annual Poet Laureate's Prize competition hosted by the Georgia Council for the Arts.

Georgia Poet Laureate Chelsea Rathburn selected the finalists and winner, and Gov. Brian Kemp and Rathburn honored them during an event at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta June 4.

The prize was for an original poem written by a Georgia high school student and was designed to encourage students to engage in the art form, a news release stated.

Rathburn, a professor of English and creative writing at Young Harris College, said what separated the work of Keeler and the other four winners from the 161 additional entries in the contest was “their awareness of what poetry can do over other forms of written expression.”

“Their poems use surprising language, charged images and careful, expressive lines. I’m excited to see where their writing takes them in the future,” Rathburn said.

Keeler, daughter of Lisa and Matthew Glover, said she plans to major in game development and design at Georgia State despite also wanting to remain an active writer.

“My game design major is such that it requires me to take classes that are given to art, writing and music majors,” Keeler said. “But, even without that requirement, I'd absolutely pursue it and will continue to do so in my free time.”

“Love letter” uses descriptive and sometimes whimsical ways to paint a mental picture of a school gym and its “ribcage bleachers,” and a beach with its allusions to “unsteady sand.”

Keeler, 18, said school and vacation “are definitely big themes” and reflect memories of friends at Cass and beach trips to Florida.

“They are more fully developed, however, as representations,” Keeler said. “School, for instance, serves as a symbol of duty, anxiety, and the past. The beach, meanwhile, portrays freedom, healing, but with a permeating presence of uncertainty.”

She first heard about the contest from flyers posted around her school building. Her literature and journalism teacher, Micaela Armona, also encouraged her to enter, Keeler said.

She said she had been a “hobbyist poet” since her middle school years and her experience with the art form gave her the confidence to enter the contest.

“I love to write wholly. But poetry is certainly my true love, and it's what I feel most immediately confident in.

“Love letter” was not written specifically for the contest “but it was a poem I was proud of” so she entered it, Keeler said.

She said she wrote the 27-line, free verse poem in about an hour.

“I am definitely the type to want a finished poem done in one go,” she said.

Keeler, was among four finalists including senior Rohini Bose of Lambert High School in Forsyth County; freshman Aanika Eragam of Milton High School in Milton; and sophomore Sarah Lao of The Westminster Schools in Atlanta.

Marylou Sutherland of Hillgrove High School in Marietta won the competition, which saw 166 entries from 69 high schools in 36 counties, said contest organizer Allen Bell, arts education manager for Georgia Council for the Arts.

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