Poetry for Peace: Young poets take the stage

Cartoon by Lisa Tkach/The Mirror

Cartoon by Lisa Tkach/The Mirror

The winners of the Poetry for Peace contest waited in line for their solos on the Regina A. Quick Center stage. Some took hesitant steps to the microphone stand when their names were called, dragging their gleaming red Mary Janes and black dress shoes across the wooden stage. Others approached the spotlight with some pep in their step, smiling and making faces to their family members out in the audience.

Though different in their heights and confidence, these children gathered in the Quick Center on Friday, Jan. 25, for one purpose: to share through poetry their ideas of peace.

Started in 2008, the Poetry for Peace contest allows students in grades kindergarten through eight from the Bridgeport and Fairfield Public Schools the chance to define peace through creative writing. The reading event used to be held in the Kelley Center, but because of growing popularity, the event had to be relocated to the Quick Center.

According to co-director of Poetry for Peace Dr. Jerelyn M. Johnson, associate professor of modern languages and literature, the judging panel received over 1,000 entries. They then split entries by grades, organizing them into four grade flights. From there on, a panel of Fairfield faculty and undergraduate and graduate students chose the winners, honorable mentions and the judges’ favorites.

The winning poems were published in a booklet, which was also distributed to the audience consisting of the Fairfield University community, parents and children.

Applause punctuated each pause before another poet went to the stage to read. Mothers juggled their children on their laps. Kids smiled to the camera as their parents beckoned from below in their seats. Confidence seemed to grow as the height of the poets increased.

The older children naturally took in the world events which disrupt peace, while most of the younger children compared peace to their own everyday activities.

Credit: Nick DiFazio

Credit: Nick DiFazio

Certain students shared a humorous perception of peace. In his poem “What peace is to me,” Christopher Cirelli, a Fairfield Woods Middle School sixth grader, wrote: “Peace is not getting haircuts.”

There were also poems that gave surprising insight into how aware children are of the present world.

Fifth grader Alec Nardone from Burr Elementary School wrote that in a world without peace, humanity is on the brink of self-destruction: “We’re all on fire – and we don’t even know it / Soon our humanity will be gone, / Burnt.”

Grace Hilton, a third grader from Timothy Dwight Elementary School in Fairfield, brought up origami cranes, the symbol of peace sprung up after the 9/11 attacks, in her poem. She saw peace in the olive branch that Noah had spotted when he arrived on land in the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Nardone and Hilton’s poems showed that, like many of the writings in the booklet, what children know should not be taken for granted.

Not only did the poems serve to entertain and to enlighten, but they also brought into perspective the contrast between the poems and reality’s fragile events that threaten current peace.

Johnson recounted the time when she and the judges met to consider the final entries. Three days later, the Sandy Hook shooting spree occurred, during which 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School were killed, most of them children.

Johnson said to the poets in the audience: “I know I speak for many of us when I say that during that seriously sad and dark moment, your words, and knowing that you and your poems existed, gave us hope. Such is the power of poetry.”

Mariam Anwar, a second grader at Osborn Hill Elementary School, wrote a poem entitled “Peace” and won an honorable mention in the grade K-2 flight.

Her opening line states that “peace sounds like the dolphins jumping in the waves.”

Encouraged by her teacher to think about things she liked when describing peace, Anwar said, “I thought about the beach and that’s how I came up with the dolphins. And I like mangoes,” she added, which referred to her line, “Peace tastes like a mango from a tree.”

She said reciting her poem to an audience was “easy” because “I wasn’t looking at the people.”

In his closing remarks, Poetry for Peace co-director and associate English professor Dr. Peter Bayers said, “We would like to thank all of you, the poets who are here, for sharing your voices with us. I think we would all agree that we have learned from your insights, your beauty and your wisdom. Your poetry attests to the power and possibilities of language.

“Your poetry has changed all of us for the better tonight. And for that: thank you.”

Brenda Perry and Wendy Accomando, teachers at Osborn Hill Elementary School, have been involved with Poetry for Peace from the start and always encourage their students to submit to the contest.

Perry, a fourth grade teacher, described this event as “wonderful,” while second grade teacher Accomando said Friday night’s poetry reading was “inspiring.”

“It’s inspiring for us,” said Accomando. “Poetry is a great medium; [the students] can use words, they don’t have to worry about grammar … they are creative and they’re open to writing things.”

Associate professor of philosophy Dr. Kris Sealey, who coordinated the judging process, would agree with Accomando, believing that poetry is sometimes overlooked in education. “…A lot of time, modes of expression are squashed and lost in formal education,” she said. “We struggle as professors to bring it back – hold on to it and make it grow!”

Sealey also sees the benefits participants would gain from the writing process. She said, “In order for these children to be productive in life, they have to develop their own voice.”

Carol Ann Davis, published poet and assistant professor of English, is working on an “expansion” of Poetry for Peace. The program, called “Poet in the classroom,” seeks to combine the poetry teaching efforts of poets and interested school teachers.

This year, the Poetry for Peace Contest was sponsored by Fairfield University’s Office of Academic Engagement, the Department of English and the Program in Peace and Justice. Poetry for Peace was also a part of the MLK Holiday Observance Week.

Reporting on this event was contributed by Crystal Rodriguez.

On receiving my first short story critique

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Photo from Flickr user J. Paxon Reyes

I finally tied down my ego with double braided nylon rope (it’s still screaming, “Love me! Love me!”) and got one of my short stories edited. I used the editing services from Carve Magazine, a magazine named after the minimalist writer Raymond Carver. I love Carve because it publishes pieces that are so concise and beautiful.

I felt like it was time to have a professional glance at my work. I used to be so incredibly shy with sharing my work with anyone. I was only comfortable with anonymity. It all started with writing Harry Potter fanfiction. Boy, was that embarrassing. I’ve only realized recently that a good majority of readers venture into the realm of fanfiction writing and are proud to announce it. But I have yet to verbally admit my fanfiction days…

…and no, I will not tell you my username, because I don’t want anyone to know how angsty I was as a teenager.

Wow, I’m sidetracking. Okay, so yes, I paid a generally low price of $45 to have the editor look over my short story about a listless cab driver who encounters a passenger who then inspires him to right some wrongs done to his loved ones.

I submitted this piece in a workshop for my Fiction I writing class with Dr. Michael White. I received good comments, and he encouraged me to submit it to magazines. However, he warned me (with a pointed index finger) that I should have it edited first. This time I felt serious about having my work published. The previous works that  I’ve submitted had been silly high school pieces that I idealistically believed were good. Well, the list of red, bold “declined”s in my Submittable account had proved me wrong…

After a few days of waiting, I received a line-by-line critique of my short story. I was pleasantly surprised by how honest it was.

I’m not going to tell you all the nitty-gritty details of the editor’s comments (I’ve already talked about it with my therapist), but one thing that he did say was that I was overwriting. I let out an unlady-like snort when I read this comment, because way back when, I had the serious problem of underwriting! On almost all of my essays in middle school, the teachers would write “MORE!” One teacher even liked to underline the word with three lines!

I’m working as hard as I can, people.

Overall, did I find the editing service helpful? Most definitely. You always need someone to ‘Gordon Lish’ your work. Yes, the editor actually turned the name of a well-known editor into a verb. The editor pointed out inconsistencies that I missed, mentioned parts that didn’t make sense, and highlighted sentence structures that needed serious revision. At the end of his note, he said: “Sometimes revision is a re-‘vision’ as in reimagining the work, not just revising.” I couldn’t agree more.

I’m trying to improve my editing skills. In fact, in a few minutes, I’ll be attending my first class on editing. So excited!

If anyone else is interested in trying an editing service, I do suggest inquiring the help of Carve. I also discovered a new editing service for “independent authors and publishers” called Indie Proof. I haven’t tried it, but it has absurdly low rates for its services and seems worth the try. You won’t regret it!

Update: Indie Proof apparently closed. What a shame.

My Reading Resolution (Thanks, Random House!)

Retreat, a blog from Random House of Canada that seeks to help the average reader “read, retreat, and relax,” recently posted a fun activity for the year 2013. I can’t tell you how many times I tell myself to read instead of sleeping until noon every day during school break. My laziness is seriously inhibiting my resolution to read more. But I am also hesitant because I don’t know where to start. What’s in and what’s out in the publishing industry?

Luckily, Retreat understands that life gets in the way of pleasure reading, which is why the bloggers decided to provide motivation with their new Reading Bingo 2013 Challenge. The bingo card has 25 boxes that describe different books. I can choose a book because of its cover, because it’s a book recommended to me, because it has a great first line, and etc. Apparently I can try to fill a row or diagonal (like in the actual game) or I can conquer the whole card. I’m choosing the latter, since I know I’ll be seriously challenged by that number. I like that this game allows me to read books from different genres. I typically read thrillers and contemporary fiction, but I’ll have to read a book of poetry and a book by a Canadian author (of course: this is Random House of Canada).

After a lot of research and an hour of memory retrieval, I’ve planned out my bingo card.

Books

Sorry, my handwriting is so messy. But at least the image is clear–thanks to my iPhone.

This is a long post, so if you are interested in seeing a few books, look at this list and press a bullet for a more detailed description. If you have time to spare, read on, my peeps.

 

A book you chose because of the cover: “Obsession,” by Leonard J. Davis

Summary from Amazon: We live in an age of obsession. Not only are we hopelessly devoted to our work, strangely addicted to our favorite television shows, and desperately impassioned about our cars, we admire obsession in others: we demand that lovers be infatuated with one another in films, we respond to the passion of single-minded musicians, we cheer on driven athletes. To be obsessive is to be American; to be obsessive is to be modern.

But obsession is not only a phenomenon of modern existence: it is a medical category—both a pathology and a goal. Behind this paradox lies a fascinating history, which Lennard J. Davis tells in Obsession. Beginning with the roots of the disease in demonic possession and its secular successors, Davis traces the evolution of obsessive behavior from a social and religious fact of life into a medical and psychiatric problem. From obsessive aspects of professional specialization to obsessive compulsive disorder and nymphomania, no variety of obsession eludes Davis’s graceful analysis.

 Just look at the cover. This is designer porn right here. I don’t have a zoom function, but apparently the obsession typeface was not produced via Photoshop; it was handmade by poking “tiny pinpricks through heavy cardstock.” Credits for the design and lettering go to Isaac Tobin and Lauren Nassef, respectively. The summary is also intriguing. The line “to be obsessive is to be American; to be obsessive is to be modern,” caught my attention, leading me to ask: “Are we really defined by this phenomenon?” Reading this nonfiction book will surely be an eye-opening experience.

A book you saw someone reading: “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” by David Foster Wallace

Summary from Amazon: “In this exuberantly praised book – a collection of seven pieces on subjects ranging from television to tennis, from the Illinois State Fair to the films of David Lynch, from postmodern literary theory to the supposed fun of traveling aboard a Caribbean luxury cruiseliner – David Foster Wallace brings to nonfiction the same curiosity, hilarity, and exhilarating verbal facility that has delighted readers of his fiction, including the bestselling Infinite Jest.”

I haven’t spotted anyone reading a physical book in a while. See, the negative aspect of e-readers is that you can never figure out what a stranger is reading! However, I’ve consulted one of my favorite Tumblrs called Underground New York Public Library. Moroccan/New Yorker photographer Ourit Ben-Haïm takes pictures of people reading in the subway. Though she puts in e-reader up once in a while, many of the pictures show people and the books they’re reading. On the front page, I found “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” by the famous David Foster Wallace.

A book that will help with your career: “Object Lessons,” by The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story

Yup. That’s me with “Object Lessons.”


Some chose classics. Some chose stories that were new even to us. Our hope is that this collection will be useful to young writers, and to others interested in literary technique. Most of all, it is intended for readers who are not (or are no longer) in the habit of reading short stories. We hope these object lessons will remind them how varied the form can be, how vital it remains, and how much pleasure it can give.”

My sister gave me this book for Christmas, and I’ve been perusing it occasionally. I’m excited to dig deeper. I’m considering both journalism and publishing careers, and I see no better way to learn writing than to read select stories from masters. I also admit that I’m not one to read short stories for fun, even though I aspire to write them. I mostly read short story submissions for Dogwood and my Fiction I class. It’s sad, I know, but I’m trying to change. This past summer I picked up a collection from Ernest Hemingway, and I loved it. My next collection after this book is “Tenth of December,” by George Saunders. I never heard of him until I read this ridiculously well-written article by Joel Lovell in The New York Times.

A book you saw on TV: “The Beautiful and the Damned,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald


Summary from Goodreads: “… the story of Harvard-educated, aspiring aesthete Anthony Patch and his beautiful wife, Gloria. As they await the inheritance of his grandfather’s fortune, their reckless marriage sways under the influence of alcohol and avarice. A devastating look at the nouveau riche and New York nightlife, as well as the ruinous effects wild ambition…”

A friend tells me that this novel was mentioned in an episode of “Gossip Girls.” Fitting, I believe.

A book with an animal on the cover: “Disgrace,” by J.M. Coetzee


Summary from Goodreads: “…tells the story of David Lurie, a twice divorced, 52-year-old professor of communications and Romantic Poetry at Cape Technical University. Lurie believes he has created a comfortable, if somewhat passionless, life for himself. He lives within his financial and emotional means. Though his position at the university has been reduced, he teaches his classes dutifully; and while age has diminished his attractiveness, weekly visits to a prostitute satisfy his sexual needs. He considers himself happy. But when Lurie seduces one of his students, he sets in motion a chain of events that will shatter his complacency and leave him utterly disgraced.”

I only know Coetzee as a post-modern writer, but ooh la la, what a plot. By the way, the animal is a dog on the cover.

A book from the library: Random!

A book that is out of your comfort zone: “Stranger in a Strange Land,” by Robert A. Heinlein

Summary from Amazon: “…an epic saga of an earthling, Valentine Michael Smith, born and educated on Mars, who arrives on our planet with psi powers—telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, telekinesis, teleportation, pyrolysis, and the ability to take control of the minds of others—and complete innocence regarding the mores of man…Valentine begins his transformation into a messiah figure. His introduction into Earth society, together with his exceptional abilities, lead Valentine to become many things to many people: freak, scam artist, media commodity, searcher, free-love pioneer, neon evangelist, and martyr.”


I’ve only read two science fiction books in my life: Ender’s Game and Shade’s Children. It’s not that I don’t want to read in that genre; it’s just not on the top of my list. For the spring semester, I will be enrolled in an Introduction to Science Fiction class and I will have to read “Stranger.” There’s no better motivation than mandatory reading.

An award-winning book: “Tinkers,” by Paul Harding

Summary from The Pulitzer Prizes: The novel is “… a powerful celebration of life in which a New England father and son, through suffering and joy, transcend their imprisoning lives and offer new ways of perceiving the world and mortality.”

I like depressing books. I like happy books. Makes sense to me.

A book recommended by your local bookseller: “Tenth of December,” by George Saunders

There’s already praise in the book description on Amazon: “Writing brilliantly and profoundly about class, sex, love, loss, work, despair, and war, Saunders cuts to the core of the contemporary experience. These stories take on the big questions and explore the fault lines of our own morality, delving into the questions of what makes us good and what makes us human.”

Taken from Lovell’s article, Saunders on David Foster Wallace and what it means to write: “I admired him so much,” he said about Wallace. “His on-the-spot capabilities were just incredible. And I thought, Yeah, we’re a lot alike. We’re similar, nervous guys. And then when he died, I thought [of myself], Wait a minute, you’re not like that. You don’t have chronic, killing depression. I’m sad sometimes, but I’m not depressed. And I also have a mawkish, natural enthusiasm for things. I like being alive in a way that’s a little bit cheerleaderish, and I always felt that around Dave. When he died, I saw how unnegotiable it was, that kind of depression. And it led to my being a little more honest about one’s natural disposition. If you have a negative tendency and you deny it, then you’ve doubled it. If you have a negative tendency and you look at it” — which is, in part, what the process of writing allows — “then the possibility exists that you can convert it.”

A young adult novel: “The Fault in Our Stars,” by John Green


Summary from Goodreads: A girl who has tumours in her lungs meets a guy who is, for some reason, attracted to her. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.”

This was recommended to me by my good friend, Ali, who texted: “Yeah, it’s really good. You would like it especially.” Since Ali knows me very well, I’ll trust her judgment. I think I’ll like it because I already love John. Let me tell you: John and his brother Hank are some of my favorite YouTube Vloggers. They’re the epitome of nerds (followers are called ‘nerdfighters,’) and they are awesome. Based on the summary, I can expect to get a huge dose of angst, romance and life lessons.


A book that’s been on your shelf for more than 5 years: “The Book of Fate,” by Brad Meltzer


“Washington, D.C., has a two-hundred-year-old secret. Six minutes from now, one of us would be dead. None of us knew it was coming. So says Wes Holloway, a young presidential aide, about the day he put Ron Boyle, the chief executive’s oldest friend, into the president’s limousine. By the trip’s end, a crazed assassin would permanently disfigure Wes and kill Boyle. Now, eight years later, Boyle has been spotted alive. Trying to figure out what really happened takes Wes back into disturbing secrets buried in Freemason history, a decade-old presidential crossword puzzle, a two hundred-year-old code invented by Thomas Jefferson that conceals secrets worth dying for.”

And I ask myself: Why has this been on my shelf for five years?

A book someone recommends to you: Random!

A book with a great first line: “Metamorphosis,” by Franz Kafka

Summary from Goodreads: “It is the story of a young man who, transformed overnight into a giant beetle-like insect, becomes an object of disgrace to his family, an outsider in his own home, a quintessentially alienated man. A harrowing — though absurdly comic — meditation on human feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and isolation, The Metamorphosis has taken its place as one of the most widely read and influential works of twentieth-century fiction.
As W.H. Auden wrote, “Kafka is important to us because his predicament is the predicament of modern man.”

First line is: “One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin.”

A book written by a celebrity: “The Pleasure of My Company,” by Steve Martin

Summary from Amazon: “Daniel resides in his Santa Monica apartment, living much of his life as a bystander…It is through Daniel’s growing attachment to Clarissa, and to Teddy, that he finally gains the courage to begin to engage the world outside, and in doing so, he discovers love, and life, in the most surprising places.”

You’ll never catch me reading Snooki’s biography. So, I chose a funny man named Steve Martin instead. In addition to acting in comedic films, Martin also writes and makes music.

A book with more than 400 pages: “Anna Karenina,” by Leo Tolstoy

Summary from Amazon: “…tells of the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and must endure the hypocrisies of society. Set against a vast and richly textured canvas of nineteenth-century Russia, the novel’s seven major characters create a dynamic imbalance, playing out the contrasts of city and country life and all the variations on love and family happiness.”

This is a classic. I bought my copy at a book sale, and I’ve gone through maybe a hundred pages already. Yeah, I know, I need to get working. You don’t have to tell me that again.

A book of poetry: “Theories and Apparitions,” by Mark Doty

From The Independent: Urbane New York peregrinations and conversational musings from the prizewinning American.

Again, I am not a poet; the best I can do is a haiku–a sorely, horrible, and uncreative haiku. This book of poetry can go in hand with the “book that is out of your comfort zone.” I found this book on the Independent website as part of their ‘Ten Best-Selling Poetry Books,’ and I usually trust their judgment.

A book you heard about on the radio: Random!

A book with pictures: “Watchmen,” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Summary from Amazon: “This Hugo Award-winning graphic novel chronicles the fall from grace of a group of super-heroes plagued by all-too-human failings. Along the way, the concept of the super-hero is dissected as the heroes are stalked by an unknown assassin.”

I’ve only read “Fun Home,” by Alison Bechdel and “Stitches,” by David Small (both from my college English courses!), but these two have spurred my love for graphic novels. I’ve heard of “Watchmen,” and its raving reviews from graphic novel fans, so I thought I’d hop on the bandwagon and check it out. As long as the storyline is compelling and graphics are amazing, I’m sold. Then again, that can be pretty hard to do.

A book recommended by barista: Random!

Hold on – looking for a barista. Contact me if you can suggest a good person or received a great recommendation!

A book recommended by a celebrity: “Gone Girl,” by Gillian Flynn

Summary from Amazon: Marriage can be a real killer. One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, New York Times bestseller Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong.

I’m not sure if ‘unputdownable’ is a word, but I’ll let it slide, Amazon. Anderson Cooper and I have a close and personal relationship, and he told me once over a cup of Chai Latte on the streets of Paris that I should read this novel. Andy, I hear you now. Will I like it? I don’t know; the ‘suspense’ is killing me 😉

 

A book by a Canadian author: “Life of Pi,” by Yann Martel

Summary from Amazon: The son of a zookeeper, Pi Patel has an encyclopedic knowledge of animal behavior and a fervent love of stories. When Pi is sixteen, his family emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship, along with their zoo animals bound for new homes. The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Richard Parker for 227 days while lost at sea. When they finally reach the coast of Mexico, Richard Parker flees to the jungle, never to be seen again. The Japanese authorities who interrogate Pi refuse to believe his story and press him to tell them “the truth.” After hours of coercion, Pi tells a second story, a story much less fantastical, much more conventional–but is it more true?

Canadian, ey? JOKES! I honestly don’t know what a Canadian accent sounds like, but I bet Canadians are super nice. I always thought of this novel as a kid’s book because of the cover, which is why I stayed away from it. However, people have been telling me to read this, so I will. Guess I’ll see the movie after.


A book you (should have) read in high school: “The Heart of Darkness,” by Joseph Conrad

How dare you, Random House! Of course I’ve read–well, kind of-not-really–OKAY! You caught me, sneaky publishing house. I’ve perused HoD and watched the totally tripping movie version, but I’ll try and get a closer reading of it when I have the time.

From Amazon: Heart of Darkness tells of Marlow, a seaman and wanderer, who journeys into the heart of the African continent to discover how the enigmatic Kurtz has gained power over the local people.

A book you would have picked up as a teenager:  “A Tale of Two Cities,” by Charles Dickens

Summary from Goodreads: After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille, the aging Doctor Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There the lives of two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil roads of London, they are drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror, and they soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.

A book “everyone” but you has read:  “Lord of the Ring” series by J.R.R. Tolkien

At first I wanted to read “Fifty Shades of Grey,” by E.L. James, but then I decided against it. “Everyone,” in that case, only applies to the female population. My next choice is the LoTR. I used to be a total “Harry Potter” snob. I said, “No, HP is the best!” (Not that it’s a bad thing, but now that I think about it, that assumption sounds so narrow-minded. Luckily no one punched me.) I’ve grown out of that phase and now I want to go back and read what everyone seemed to obsess over in middle school and high school. I saw the movies–fantastic–but I admit I still don’t understand the whole evil eye thing.

I really hope I can complete this challenge. Rereading this post, I’m getting excited about buying and borrowing these books! And you’ll be glad to know that I am sticking with printed books. Reading on e-readers actually cause strain on my eyes. Also, e-readers cannot replace the sensation of paper between your fingers.

Now, I am curious…what will you read? Comment below, you brave souls who stuck around.

Many of these images were found using Creative Commons