When Natalie Kawam ’19 first arrived on Bryn Mawr’s campus, she’d never taken a formal poetry class in her life, but now, a year later, Natalie’s poem "The Pulse" has been recognized by one of America’s most important poetry organizations.
Every year, Bryn Mawr awards its Academy of American Poets Prize to an undergraduate student. Kawam’s work won the award in 2016. The Academy was so impressed by her work that they published it on their website.
“This is a rare distinction not often offered to college winners,” says J.C. Todd, a poet and lecturer in the Creative Writing Program.
No one’s more taken aback by the honor than Natalie herself, who never expected her poetry to earn such recognition. “I just submitted and didn’t really think about it,” Natalie said about applying for the award last year. “I was really surprised when I got it. You see other poets who have received this prize, like Louise Glϋck, and you realize this is really an award for poets who are going to be something some day. That’s why it’s such an honor to me.”
There was a time in high school when Natalie “hated poetry for a while.” However, a junior-year reading of T.S. Eliot turned her on to the form. When she got to Bryn Mawr, Natalie enrolled in Introduction to Poetry, and began to refine her writing.
“I became better at explaining what I wanted to do, and how I wanted to do it,” she says. “I learned what it means to truly edit, and I’ve spent weeks refining what I want to get across.”
Natalie credits her growth as a writer to Todd and fellow poetry instructor Dilruba Ahmed.
“I’ve definitely changed because of them,” Natalie says. “They’re incredible teachers. And I’m studying with Thomas Devaney at Haverford this year, so I’m excited to see how my work changes.”
Natalie plans to major in psychology but she also wants to keep poetry in her life. While the two might seem like completely different fields, Natalie finds the intersection between them fascinating:
“For me, psychology is more of the scientific side of things. But on the other hand, it’s the study of the mind, and I think poetry has a lot to do with how in touch you are with the experience that you’re writing about,” she says. “So I think the study of both poetry and psych at the same time really marries the two, and kind of goes to show how the study of the mind can be very diverse.”