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Literature Contest

The English Department at Western Kentucky University is pleased to announce the 2023-2024 Literature Essay Contest. Students should visit the links on the right to complete an application and submit a 500-750-word piece (MLA style; pdf format) based on the prompt below. The English Department will invite finalists, their teachers, and family to campus for a reception and ceremony on April 20 where they will be recognized.

The winners will receive cash prizes: First Place: $150; Second Place: $100; Third Place: $50.

Application and Essays are due March 23rd, 2024.

The following poem, “Cyrus and The Snakes,” is written by U.S. Poet Laureate, Ada Limón from her most recent book, The Hurting Kind (2022). Read the poem carefully and craft a 500 – 750 word essay of literary analysis.

Prompt: Limón’s poem focuses on a pair of siblings (a brother and sister) that have differing relationships with nature throughout the poem. How does the speaker connect her brother’s youthful experiences to his adult understanding of the relationship of nature and curiosity? Support your reason by using textual evidence to analyze the poem’s form—its sequence of images and episodes, its sounds, its tone, etc.




My brother holds a snake by its head. The whole

length of the snake is the length


of my brother’s body. The snake’s head

is held safely, securely, as if my brother


is showing it something in the distant high grass.

I don’t know why he wants to hold them,


Their strong bodies wrapping themselves around

the warmth of his arm. Constricting and made


Of circles and momentum; slippery coolness smooth

against the ground. Still, this image of him,


Holding a snake as it snakes as snakes

do, both a noun and a verb and a story


that doesn’t end well. Once, we stole an egg

from the backyard chicken coop


and cracked it just to see what was inside: a whole

unhatched chick. Where we


expected yolk and mucus was an unfeathered

and unfurled sweetness. We stared at the thing,


dead now and unshelled by curiosity and terrible youth.

My brother pretended not to care so much,


while I cried, though only a little. Still, we buried it

in the brush, by the creeping thistle that tore up


our arms with their speared leaves, barbed

at the ends like weapons struck in the rattlesnake grass.


But I knew, I knew that he’d cry if he was alone,

if he wasn’t a boy in the summer heat being a boy


in the summer heat. Years later, back from Mexico

or South America, he’d admit he was tired


of history, of always discovering the ruin by ruining

it, wrecking a forest for a temple, a temple


that should simply be left a temple. He wanted it

all to stay as it was, even if it went undiscovered.


I want to honor a man who wants to hold a wild thing,

only for a second, long enough to admire it fully,


and then wants to watch it safely return to its life,

bends to be sure the grass closes up behind it.




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 Last Modified 9/18/23