People from across Lee County celebrated the art of the spoken word Tuesday at an awards ceremony for the county’s first-ever poetry contest.

The Lee County Arts Council called for submissions from people of all ages throughout April, which was National Poetry Month. The dozen or so poems they received were judged anonymously by council members Ty Stumpf and Bianka Rhodes Stumpf on a 10-point system, said arts council Director Gwendolyn Lee.

The judges selected winners in two categories, one for poets under age 18 and one for poets 18 and older, Lee said Tuesday.

Jay-Lynn Ray, 11, was the winner in the under age 18 category with her “poem/spoken word piece/lecture” titled “In a perfect world,” Lee said. The sixth-grader quietly read her poem before accepting a certificate and $50 cash prize.

The winner in the over age 18 category, who received a $100 cash prize, was William Johnson, who said he is “a poet to the core.”

“Poetry is my purpose,” Johnson said. “Poetry actually saved my life.”

Before reading his poem entitled “Ghetto Battlefield,” Johnson gave a shout out to the other artists in the room.

“I flunked art, I got a D minus minus,” he said bluntly. “(The) art teacher told me I didn’t have the gift, I said, ‘Well, where can I play an instrument?’ I tried to play an instrument, they said I didn’t have the ear. Thank God that somebody realized I had the gift, in eighth grade, to write poetry. I got the heart.”

Several other poets who entered the contest read their poems aloud during the quasi-open-mic. And as each spoke, with their own style and voice, the silence between the beats of their words became art.