River of Words FAQ

River of Words FAQ River of Words FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions


The 2023 River of Words Competition is closed for submissions. Results will be announced in late March 2023.


Got a question about deadlines, group submissions, or the ROW contest in general? Find the answer here.

Content, Eligibility & Deadlines

River of Words is looking for artwork and poetry that…

  • Thoughtfully considers ideas, images, and language. Be specific!
  • Shows the reader something. Paint a picture (with paint or with words)!
  • Creates an experience for the reader/viewer: use images that take us on a journey or make us feel something.
  • Has fun: with form, images, textures. Surprise yourself by trying something new!
  • Features a specific aspect, formation, ecosystem, or organism of nature that resonates with you.
  • Exhibits scientific knowledge of a particular subject learned in the classroom.
  • Invites us into your backyard: go outside, what do you see? What do you hear?
  • What do you smell? What do you feel?
  • Shows what no one else sees: a poem or artwork that reveals your own unique observations or personal experiences.
  • Speaks to an awareness of a global community or collective consciousness: a poem or artwork can reflect the experiences of a culture or natural world surrounding you.

Students may want to ask themselves, what do the ideas above mean to me? The answers will be different for everyone, though we hope to give you some idea of what we are looking for. We want students to follow their creativity to its fullest extent by exploring and trying things they have not done before while they create poetry and art of environment and place.

The goal of River of Words is to connect youth with their watersheds - the environments they live in - through engagement in the art and poetry of place. That means we look for art and poetry that shows a real connection to the world around you. For some folks, that means a lot of green and open space; for others, that means a city environment, with different noises, smells, and sights. We're looking for youth to show us what only they see about their world. 

For inspiration and examples of past winning and finalist poetry and art, click here.

Children 5–19 years of age, who are not yet in college, may enter the River of Words annual contest.

All submissions for the 2023 competition are due by January 31, 2023 at 11:59pm after which the submission portal will close and no late submissions will be accepted for any reason. Winners will be announced in Early April 2023. If you are a resident in Georgia or Arizona, please refer to the competition deadlines for your State Competition.

No; the contest is free to enter.

Consider how many/which student(s) originally created the poem or artwork. For example, poems and art that have been revised as the result of a workshop, or generated by one individual as the result of a class-wide exercise, generally have one original, primary creator. If your child is the original and primary creator of a poem/artwork, they may submit that artwork under their own name and, if that artwork is awarded a prize, your child will receive the prize.

If your child has a piece of artwork that has multiple primary, original creators (for example, a painting more than one student worked on in a similar timespan, or a poem where more than one student contributed a stanza), you may submit the art, but one child must be selected as a representative of the group. They are eligible, but only one entry form may accompany each poem or artwork. Should the poem or artwork be chosen as a winning entry, one child will receive the prize as a representative of the group.

Submission Process

Participants may submit up to 5 entries for poetry and 5 entries for art (total of up to 10 entries). If more than 5 entries are submitted, we will only accept the first 5 as is. If multiple files or pieces of artwork are being submitted, then this form must be filled out once per submission.

The 2023 River of Words Competition is closed for submissions. Results will be announced in late March 2023.

The 2023 River of Words Competition is closed for submissions. Results will be announced in late March 2023.

All artwork must be original work and will be judged based on the following components: 

1. Art must be mailed in order to be considered for the 2023 competition regardless of medium. If the art is a digital piece, please have it printed. Art will not be returned to the artist.

2. All artwork must be original work. Acceptable media are paint, pencil, markers, ink, crayon, chalk or pastel (fixed), photography, cloth, collage, and computer art.

3. Knowledge of medium: Does the piece can utilize multiple art mediums (pencil, paint, photography, etc.)?
The student does not need to display mastery of the medium, but the piece should represent a level of understanding of the medium they have chosen.

4. Content: Does the piece of artwork depict something to do with the environment, local watersheds, cultural impact on the environment, etc.?

5. Creativity and Originality: Is the piece unique to the artist? Is it clear that the artist took time and effort to create the piece? Does the piece represent skill appropriate for the artists grade level?

6. Craft: Does the work introduce a thought, concept, idea and/or make you think on a higher level? Are there elements to the piece that are purposeful and add to the piece?

7. Composition and presentation: Does the piece have or reflect any of the following: repeating shapes, patterns, symmetry, colors that are complimentary, use of texture to add to the story, composition to show fields of depth and keep the eye focused, movements or flow of scenery, correct/appealing or purposeful incorrect proportions.

8. Collaborative artwork is accepted, but only one student (chosen as the group representative) will be eligible for any prizes awarded. 

9. IMPORTANT: All artwork submissions must be mailed to:

Attn: River of Words
Filippi Academic Hall (FAH), 2nd Floor
1928 St. Mary's Rd., Moraga, CA 94556
PMB 4350, Moraga, CA 94575-4350

Print out the form submission notification sent to the email you provided and attached the form to the piece of art before mailing to us. Art work submitted without the emailed proof of entry form will not be accepted.

Poems should be no longer than 32 lines in length. The title of the poem should be centered at the top of the page. The entire poem should be printed in black, in a legible font such as Times New Roman, Helvetica, Calibri, Arial, etc. If handwritten, the poem should be written neatly in a standard color of ink (black, blue, etc.) At the bottom of the poem, please include only the student's age and grade. Do not put the student's name, school, or state information on the page with the poem; all that information will be collected in the online entry portal. 

Please see the image below for an example of what a submission that follows these formatting rules would look like:

Example ROW poetry entry

No work is returned.

Prizes & Acknowledgements

4 Grand Prizes are awarded in Poetry, and 4 Grand Prizes are awarded in Art and Poetry. The prizes are split by category:

  • Category I: Primary (Kindergarten–Grade 2)
  • Category II: Elementary (Grade 3–Grade 5)
  • Category III: Intermediate (Grade 6–Grade 8)
  • Category IV: Secondary (Grade 9–Grade 12)

ROW awards 1 International Grand Prize to one entry, either art or poetry, in any age category.

Regionally, we have the Shasta Bioregion Award Winner(s), celebrating outstanding entries from Northern California. We also have several prizes aimed at celebrating specific subjects or forms: 

  • The Monkey's Raincoat Prize, honoring an exemplar haiku poem(s)
  • The On Writing award category, which celebrates poems that approach the nature of writing
  • The One Square Block prize, celebrating poems that examine the interaction between the manmade and natural world

The number of entries awarded these 3 prizes are up to the discretion of the judges, but is typically 1–3 per prize category.

Finally, our finalists who are published alongside the winners vary each year, depending on the number and quality of submissions.

River of Words/Kalmanovitz School of Education Teacher of the Year: 1 winner. For information about the Teacher of the Year nomination process, which runs year-round, click here.

Yes; everyone who enters will receive a Watershed Explorer Certificate, suitable for framing. Winners' and finalists' art and poetry will be published in our annual River of Words anthology, as well as on our Web page.

River of Words Information

River of Words produces and distributes curriculum materials, communit partnership resources, and children's art and poetry.

River of Words also conducts Educator's Workshops at various locations throughout the year. For upcoming workshops, visit the Educators section here on our website.

ROW is a project of the Center for Environmental Literacy at Saint Mary's College, a non-profit educational organization, incorporated in the State of California. We are supported by grants from foundations and donations from individuals, businesses, and government agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency. We are affiliated with The Library of Congress Center for the Book, the Library's literacy promotion division.