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Arrowhead students Blake Ripenburg and Gianna Woida Named Winners in Poetry Contest

Arrowhead junior Gianna Woida and senior Blake Ripenburg were published on The Sejong Cultural Society’s webpage and named honorable mentions in the 2023 International Sijo poetry contest. Out of the eight 2023 winners, two were from Arrowhead. 


Woida and Ripenburg each won $100 for their poem.


The international sijo competition is an annual contest, now in its third year, where poets from around the world can submit one original sijo. 


Entries were read through and winners were decided by three judges. According to the Sejong International Sijo Competition, the three judges in the 2023 contest were Seong-Kon Kim, David McCann, and Mark Peterson. Kim is a Professor Emeritus of Seoul National University and a Visiting Scholar at Dartmouth College. McCann received a bachelors degree from Amherst College and a masters and Phd from Harvard. Peterson received bachelors, masters, and PhD degrees from Brigham Young University and Harvard. 


According to The Sejong Cultural Society webpage, a sijo is a traditional Korean poetic form that usually covers cosmological, metaphysical, or pastoral themes. 


English teacher Elizabeth Jorgensen taught both Ripenburg and Woida in her online summer school creative writing class. 


Jorgensen says, “I asked each one of my summer school students to write at least five sijo poems and then submit their favorite to the international sijo competition, which had a deadline of September 30, 2023.”


The winners were announced in an email on October 22, 2023.


I Am Who I’m Not by Blake Ripenburg

A mask covers an unknown face no one seems to see through it.
Recognized by many, they think they know who I really am.
Greetings with smiles and hellos, They see me as someone I’m not

“Trying to follow the syllable rule was very tough [and] nothing about this poem was very easy. I chose to write about the something hidden as today I see a lot of people with many things they don’t seem to want people to know or even realize are a part of,” Ripenburg said.


Perfection by Gianna Woida

Cover up the blemishes and be what they want me to be.
Show some more skin but do not look like you’re asking for it.
In a world full of imperfections they expect perfection.

Sijo poems have three lines and are expected to be phrasal and lyrical, as they are meant to be songs. They have 14 to 16 syllables in each line and 44 to 46 syllables in the entire poem. Each line is written in four groups of syllables that are differentiated but flow together. 


Jorgensen says that in 2022, none of the international sijo winners came from her classes, but in 2021, former Arrowhead student Madelyn Esser won second place and former Arrowhead student Ashley Ells was an honorable mention.


Rain by Madelyn Esser

My grandma loves the rain.
    So she moved to Seaside:
a small town on the Oregon coast,
    where it almost always rains.
Now I love the company of rain
    because when it rains, she’s still here.

“It was really cool because Ashley and I were interviewed and featured on The Sejong Cultural Society’s YouTube channel. Ashley talked about her poem, Industrial World, and I was able to share more about how I use sijo in my summer school classes,” Jorgensen says. The YouTube video can be viewed here.


Industrial World by Ashley Ells

Factories pump products while gas gluts the air. We’re strangled.
Garbage floats in the ocean, trees tumble down, fires rage on.
All for us, animals die and the earth cries as she drowns.

According to the Sejong Cultural Society, Peterson says in sijo, “word choice is important…Sometimes the right word in the right place is a zinger, really powerful. Some poems miss the fact that the image or message is lost in vague and ambiguous wording and imagery. They seem to try too hard to be flowery or emotional and the message is unclear… Some poetic emotion is in the category of sadness – loss, loneliness, abandonment, insult, being ostracized. Happiness – love, acceptance, success, accomplishment. The thing about sijo, more so than haiku, is that the form can capture a wide range of emotions.”


Jorgensen says she hopes she’s inspired all of her creative writing students to write poetry and to share their words with the world.


“I’m so proud of Blake and Gianna. They are now published and award-winning authors,” Jorgensen says. “This is rarified air for high school students and I hope Blake and Gianna know how proud I am of them and their work.”


Jorgensen says any current Arrowhead students interested in writing and publishing should take creative writing—either online in summer school or in person during the school year.


Jorgensen says, “I love the sijo form and plan to continue sharing it with my students year after year.”

The current sijo competition, open to all students and adults in the US and Canada, invites poets to submit one sijo before February 29, 2024 here.

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