Rules and Guidelines

The River of Words international art and poetry contest is open to any child in the world, from 5 to 19 years of age, who has not yet completed high school.

You may enter on your own, or through your school, or youth organization. We accept poems in English, Spanish and American Sign Language (please submit on DVD.) You may enter as many poems or pieces of art as you wish. All entries are acknowledged with a certificate but are not returned. Good luck!

Contest rules:

Entries will be judged in the following categories.

Category I -- K-Grade 2 (Primary
Category II -- Grades 3-6 (Elementary)
Category III -- Grades 7-9 (Intermediary)
Category IV -- Grades 10-12 (Secondary) 

There is no charge to enter, and students may enter as many times as they like. However, a separate entry form must be completed for each submission.

Students may enter on their own or as part of a group (classroom, Girl Scout troop, 4-H, etc.). All entrants receive acknowledgement in the form of a “Watershed Explorer” certificate.

Teachers or facilitators must send all entries from their classes in one envelope (or several, if needed). Please do not have each student mail his or her entry separately.

Teachers/facilitators must complete a Facilitator Form along with the group entries, as well as a typed list of the names of all entrants in your class (Class List). Please keep a copy of this list to refer to when customizing and distributing the Watershed Explorer Certificates for your students.

Every entrant will receive a Watershed Explorer Certificate.

Submissions become property of River of Words. Through submission of poetry or artwork, contestants and their legal guardians grant nonexclusive reproduction and publication rights to the works submitted, which will not be returned.

Poetry Guidelines

All poems must be original work.

Written poetry must be either typed (preferred) or legibly written in ink (pencil does not photocopy); ASL poetry must be submitted on a DVD.

Poems should not exceed 32 lines in length (written) or 3 minutes (signed).

The student’s name, school, city and state should be on the poem, and a completed Entry Form (individual or group) must be stapled back to back with each poem, with both the poem and entry form facing out. For ASL poetry, please include a brief written summary of the poem’s content. Poems not submitted in this format, or with incomplete or illegible writing will not be judged.

Collaborative poems are accepted, but only one child (chosen as the group representative) will be eligible for any prizes awarded.

We accept poems in English, Spanish, and American Sign Language only.

Artwork guidelines

All artwork must be original work. We do not accept color photocopies.

Artwork may not exceed 11” by 17”— no exceptions.

Acceptable media are paint, pencil, markers, ink, crayon, chalk or pastel (fixed), photography, cloth, collage, woodcuts, linoleum block prints, silk screen, monoprints, lithographs and computer art. Photo entries must be at least 8” x 10”.

All entries must include the student’s name, school, city, and state on the back. Do not use marking pen or anything that will show through. A completed entry form must also be affixed to the back of each piece of artwork. Please attach the entry form with tape or other fixative (if using glue, be careful to use one that will not run through and damage the artwork). Do not use paperclips.

High-quality color reproductions of prize-winning artwork will be provided to their respective creators.

Art entries must be done on paper that will allow for duplication, display, or framing. Please, no notebook or typing paper, and do not mat, mount, laminate, frame, or fold artwork.  Entries must be mailed flat or rolled in a tube—no folding!


All U.S. entries must be postmarked by December 1. 

International entries must be received by February 1.

We are not responsible for entries that are late or lost in the mail. Entries received after the deadline will be automatically entered in next year’s contest.

Entries may be submitted at any time during the year, but no response will be sent until after the yearly contest deadline.

Winners and prizes

About 100 poems and artworks are selected as finalists each year. All winners receive ribbons, books or art supplies, and other prizes.

Eight grand prize winners—four in poetry and four in art, in four age categories—are chosen from the U.S. entries. 

Winners will be announced in April of each year, and are honored at our West Coast Award ceremony at Saint Mary's College of California in Spring of 2015.* Winners must sign an acceptance form. For a list of winners, please include a self-addressed, stamped (2-ounce postage) envelope when sending in your entry.

Special prizes: River of Words and The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress honor two students who live in our respective watersheds: River of Words’ Shasta Bioregion Prize (SF Bay Area) and The Library of Congress’s Anacostia Watershed Prize (Washington, D.C.). The winning works may be either poetry or art.

Note: Many states and regions also award River of Words prizes. Check our Regional Coordinators Directory to see if your area has a coordinator, then check with that person to see if he or she conducts a state or regional River of Words contest.