The Poetry Center

The Poetry Center offers a variety of programs and activities that help expand its mission of bringing poetry to an ever-widening audience.

The Poetry Center administers the following awards and activities:

  • Iris N. Spencer Poetry Awards, including the Donald Justice Poetry Prize,
    the Iris N. Spencer Undergraduate Poetry Award, the Myong Cha Son Haiku Award,
    Wil Mills, and the Rhina Espaillat Award.
    To learn more about each award visit the Contests and Awards page.
  • Poet-in-residence
  • Poetry reading series
  • Mini-conferences on topics related to poetic craft.
  • Art song concerts in collaboration with WCU's College of Arts and Humanities and Wells School of Music.

The West Chester University Poetry Center offers an active, interesting, and diverse slate of activities. We invite you to join us and discover the joys of poetry.

To celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the West Chester University Poetry Conference and National Poetry Month, this year's conference will be held April 2-4, 2020 with Poet Molly Peacock as Keynote Speaker.

Stay tuned to this website for more information and updates.

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Shirley Geok-Lim

Shirley Lim Fellowship Opportunity

Purpose of the fund:

The Shirley Geok-lin Lim Award is an annual distribution of up to $1,000 for the chosen recipient to attend the WCU Poetry Conference or WCU Poetry Workshop.  The distribution may be used for economy travel and accommodations.

The recipient must be a K-12 teacher from the United States who actively teaches the writing of poetry. Applicants must submit a letter from their principal verifying they teach writing and poetry in the classroom. They must submit 3-6 original poems in form and a copy of a lesson plan for teaching poetry.  Submissions will be directed to the Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities for review in coordination with the WCU Poetry Center Director. Please submit all documents to with a subject line of “Shirley Lim Award.”

Background Info: 

Born in Malacca, Malaysia, Shirley Geok-lin Lim was raised by her Chinese father and attended missionary schools. Although her first languages were Malay and the Hokkien dialect of Chinese, she was reading English poetry by the time she was six. At 10, her first poem was published in The Malacca Times; by age 11, she knew she wanted to be a poet. She earned her B.A. from the University of Malaya and her Ph.D, from Brandeis University.

Lim considers herself primarily a poet, although she has also written three books of short stories, numerous critical texts, three novels, and a memoir. Her debut collection, Crossing the Peninsula and Other Poems (Heinemann, 1980) won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, a first for a woman and an Asian. Her ten poetry collections include three published in 2015, Ars Poetica for the Day, The Irreversible Sun, and Do You Live In? Embracing the Angel focused on the Democracy Movement that she observed first hand while a Visiting Distinguished Professor in Hong Kong in 2014. Her many awards include the UCSB Faculty Research Lecturer Award (the highest honor UCSB offers its faculty), Fulbright Distinguished Lecturer Awards, two American Book Awards, and the Society for the Study of Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States Lifetime Achievement Award.

Lim was a professor of English and chair of the Women’s Studies department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She retired in 2012 after almost two decades of service to the university. She also taught at MIT and served as Chair Professor of English at University of Hong Kong.

Dr. Cherise Pollard has been named the Director of the West Chester University Poetry Center.

“This is wonderful news,” said Jen Bacon, Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, noting that Pollard brings 20 years of experience as a poet, scholar, critic, and teacher to the position. She will begin her post this August.

Dr. Pollard began her career at West Chester University in 1999, specializing in African American historical novels, African American literary theory and criticism, the Black Arts Movement, womanist and feminist criticism and theory, and twentieth-century American poetry and poetics. After having completed a series of fellowships at Cave Canem: A Home for Black Poetry, she published her first poems, “whateva you do” and “Call and Response.”

During her time at West Chester, Dr. Pollard has organized numerous public readings and craft talks, bringing poets like Natasha Trethewey to campus the year that she won the Pulitzer Prize. Dr. Pollard has regularly attended the WCU Poetry Conference, and she was a founding board member for Poetry by the Sea, responsible for their advertising and branding strategy, co-designing their conference program, and assisting with the training and management of conference staff.

Dr. Pollard has also read her own works many times, on campus and off, most recently at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Residency in Poetry, which she completed a fellowship in October of 2019. Dr. Pollard’s 2016 poetry collection, Outsiders, was the winner of the 2015 Susan K. Collins/Mississippi Valley Chapbook Contest. This year, she and two co-editors (Daniela Buccili and Wendy Scott) will see the publication of Show Us Your Papers! An anthology of 80 Poets.

“Poetry unites,” wrote Pollard in her position application, and her vision for the Poetry Center includes a plan to encourage even greater participation from students at the annual poetry conference. She was thrilled to learn that the conference was moving into April and to National Poetry month so that it could build on that energy while also meeting the needs of students who may not be available in the summer. “Poetry,” says Pollard, “can help people understand what they’ve just been through. People articulate their lives through poetry… Post-COVID, when our communities come back together, I think language is going to be the way we start to build ourselves back up to see who we are.”

Image of Dr. Cherise Pollard

Mission Statement

The West Chester University Poetry Center was created in 2000 to further the study and appreciation of poetry. The goals of the Poetry Center are to:

  • provide the nation's finest instruction in the diverse traditional techniques of poetry.

  • provide an international forum for the discussion of poetic form and prosody.

  • train teachers in the art of teaching poetry and poetic form.

  • foster the necessary dialogue between practicing poets and critics in a culture that too often separates them.

  • recognize poetic achievement through the Iris N. Spencer Awards.

  • illustrate the important connections between contemporary poetry and fine printing.

Poetry Conference Fiscal Review

Poetry Center Advisory Board

The West Chester University Poetry Center Advisory Board supports the overall objectives of the West Chester University Poetry Center, including the Iris N. Spencer Poetry Awards, through promotional and fund raising activities.

Board members are identified and recommended by the members of the WCU Poetry Center Advisory Board and the Program Director of the Poetry Center in consultation with the West Chester University Advancement Office. All appointments to the Board are approved and made by the President of West Chester University. The Board is composed of members/advocates of the arts community, University alumni, and local and national business and civic leaders.

Current Board Members:
Kean Spencer, President
K. Hyoejin Yoon, Senior Associate Dean
Dr. Cherise Pollard, Director
Kate Wickersham, WCU Foundation Director of Development
Rhina Espaillat
Dana Gioia
Jeff Hardin
George Reitnour
Kyle Spencer
Faculty Representative, Maureen McVeigh-Trainor
Student Representative,

WCU Faculty Advisory Committee


The Faculty Advisory Committee’s purpose is to support the mission of the WCU Poetry Center, as articulated in its founding NEH endowment grant: "to create an environment in which humanities and arts are integrated, and focused on the broader implications of Poetry".

Specifically, the committee’s charge is to:

  • Work with the Program Director to integrate the activities of the Poet-in-Residence and other visiting poets by helping to design the events and facilitate connections to classes, coursework, academic calendar, student organizations, faculty/student research, etc.

  • Advise the Program Director and Dean on WCU faculty and student priorities and how they can be addressed through the Poetry Center’s activities.

  • Ensure the participation of WCU faculty and students by supporting and promoting the Poetry Center’s activities.

Faculty Advisory Committee Members: 
Nancy Pearson, (co-chair), English
Cherise Pollard, (co-chair), Director
Kristin Ervin, English
Martin Dallago, Theatre and Dance
Gloria Hernandez, Languages and Cultures
Len Kelly, Theatre and Dance 
Maureen McVeigh-Trainor, English
Eirini Panagiotidou, English; Linguistics
Nancy Pearson, English
Kate Stewart, Art + Design
Sophia Vilceus, English

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