The power to overcome

Photo contributed by Andrew Chapin.

Photo contributed by Andrew Chapin ’09, co-author of “From Tragedy to Triumph,” the life story of double-leg amputee John Tartaglio ’09.

His pain level was nine out of 10. Confined to his hospital bed, sweating and aching all over, he could hear his skin crackling, the result of gas gangrene inside his legs, caused by bacteria eating away at his muscle tissues.

Seventeen-year-old John Tartaglio was dying.

His diagnoses couldn’t keep up with his rapid decline. At first it was “just a virus,” then mononucleosis, then myositis — inflammation of the muscles — until the doctors discovered the flesh-eating bacteria. Doctors had to act quick, so Tartaglio underwent a surgery called debridement, which removed infected tissues. The doctors had to amputate both of his legs and cut a part of his left bicep.

Twenty-four hours after amputating his legs, Tartaglio woke up in his hyperbaric chamber, a vessel that provided his cells with oxygen. Doctors told him that he’d never walk again. Tartaglio, who graduated from Fairfield in 2009, almost believed his doctors — almost.

He recognized that adjusting to this change would take a while, but he felt that he owed it to his family, to his friends and to himself to make the most of his circumstances.

“I really felt like if I didn’t push myself and take ownership of getting myself strong again, no one else would,” Tartaglio wrote in his journal.

“I was lucky to be alive, and I reminded myself of that every day.”

True to his word, he showed his strength when he finished the 26.2-mile New York City Marathon five years later, becoming the first bilateral hip disarticulate to run it. These days, in addition to being an active triathlon and marathon participant, the Milford resident is a nationwide inspirational speaker, a business intern at Philips, a soon-to-be MBA graduate, a husband and a father.

Tartaglio, now 26, and fellow alum Andrew Chapin ‘09 chronicled his life story in a nonfiction book, “From Tragedy to Triumph.”

In November 2006, Chapin wrote an article for The Mirror about Tartaglio finishing the New York City Marathon’s handcycling division in 30th place out of 101 participants. They started hanging out, meeting through mutual friends.

Years later, Tartaglio reached out to Chapin about writing a nonfiction book; a fiction writer and a teacher at Thornton-Donovan School, Chapin saw the strength in Tartaglio’s story and couldn’t resist.

To help Tartaglio write the story and adopt his voice, Chapin shadowed him as he went on with his day-to-day life.

“He accomplishes the same thing that any other able-bodied person accomplishes, but just in a different way,” Chapin simply said.

In his motivational talks, Tartaglio usually sits in his wheelchair, contained, but his voice rings out. He tells people to pursue their goals no matter the circumstances.

“Anything is possible when it means enough to you,” he usually says. After his surgery, living as normal of a life as possible, despite what happened, had become his main goal.

Moving On

With hope as his “driving force,” Tartaglio entered physical therapy at Gaylord Rehabilitation Facility in Wallingford, Conn., and later at Rehabilitation Associates. He had to relearn how to balance himself again, with gravity working against him, and how to sit up by himself. He learned how to walk with prosthetic legs. He wanted to be strong once more. Sometimes his efforts ended in disappointments, but they didn’t matter as long as he eventually succeeded, Tartaglio said.

Proving medical professionals wrong, Tartaglio returned to school, walked across the stage and received his diploma from Joseph A. Foran High School in Milford.

His transition to Fairfield was like many other peers’ experience: hesitant.

“When [Tartaglio] and I were at Fairfield together, no one really [acted] in any way different towards him,” Chapin added.

And whenever he did get certain looks, like from curious children, Tartaglio would “smirk and wave and completely diffuse the situation,” Michael Lynch ‘09 said of his best friend.

In 2001, Lynch had met Tartaglio, whom he calls “John T” or “J.T.,” when they were on opposing football teams, Notre Dame High School in West Haven, Conn. and Foran High School, respectively. Lynch transferred to Foran his sophomore year and a friendship was made – and continues today.

Lynch and Tartaglio were roommates and best friends throughout all four years at Fairfield — from Regis, to Gonzaga, to Townhouse 135, and ending on the beach.

Tartaglio wanted to continue strengthening his body, but after finding the RecPlex inaccessible for his disability, he approached Mark Spellman, who was the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for athletes, and asked if he could use the Athletic Center. To Tartaglio’s surprise, Spellman offered to personally train him — promising that he’d be pushed to the limits like any other athlete with two legs. Some athletes might balk at the vigorous schedule Spellman had set, but this was a challenge that Tartaglio gladly took on.

“I wanted to prove to [Spellman] that regardless of my disability that I could push myself like the athletes he trained on a daily basis,” Tartaglio said. “Physical training was a big part of what he did, but the friendship we developed was just as great.”

Lynch would have a 9 a.m. class, but he remembered Tartaglio waking up to train at 6 a.m. “He tried to be quiet,” Lynch said, laughing.westchester20tri20sunrise

All the while, Tartaglio managed to balance his training, his courses and his blossoming inspirational speaking business.

Swinging into Challenges

At first triathlons — races with biking, swimming and running — were foreign to Tartaglio. He swam at the Madison Jaycees while his physical therapist Jim biked and another PT, Jackie, ran.

The next big step came in sophomore year when he agreed to handcycle the New York City Marathon. He finished after two hours, 12 minutes and 12 seconds.

The end of his nonfiction book led up to Nov. 1, 2009: his chance to run the NYC Marathon using a prosthetic. People walked patiently beside him, flashing their lights so that he could see the ground below. Hitting 22 miles at 7 p.m., he continued on a path while taxis drove by. A man encouraged him: “Good job, man. Keep going.”

At the last 100 feet, around 10 p.m., people cheered and clapped from the sidelines. Finally, finishing at 15 hours and 59 minutes, he arrived at the finish line — but didn’t cross. He let the ribbon fall to the ground. For him, the point wasn’t to cross that particular line; his accomplishments far surpassed that physical signifier.

“It really is a transcendent moment in his journey,” Chapin said.

FROM TRAGEDY TO TRIUMPH COVERThe Present and the Future

“While it is tough to grasp for some, I truly wouldn’t take back what happened to me,” Tartaglio said. “While what happened was devastating, clearly life-changing and put my family and friends through tough times, the positive experiences that resulted far surpassed the negatives.”

“He had a really good core around him who helped him overcome adversity,” Lynch said. So many people stood by him and believed in him, including his family, his closest friends, his physical therapists Erik, Jim and Dave, Spellman and training partners, Chris and Brett.

With an MBA waiting for him in May, Tartaglio plans to become an internal consultant and help organizations improve their overall performance. His inspirational speaking background will carry over into his next career.

Since the marathon, two events have surpassed his accomplishments: becoming a husband in 2012 and a father nine months later.

“[My daughter] is nine months, but she thinks I’m awesome,” he said.

Like Chapin and many others, Lynch is astonished by his best friend’s ability to juggle so much. Last time they got together was a month ago, but their social time usually depends on whether or not Tartaglio can get a sitter for his daughter.

For his and Chapin’s upcoming appearance at the bookstore, Tartaglio said: “The goal is to help people take away something that can have a positive effect on their lives. What the exact takeaway will maybe different from person to person, but people need to know that anything is possible when it means enough to you.”

Why I care about ‘The Resurrection’

Immigration Services calls agent Marty Bellamy in, saying they found an 8-year-old American boy in China with no recollection of how he got there. The only thing the boy, Jacob, remembers is his home in Missouri. Marty brings him there and he thought that would be the end of the case – a happy reunion – and that he’d find the answers he needed.

Marty was wrong.

Based off the debut novel “The Resurrection,” by Jason Mott, this new ABC television series explores the possibility of the return of the dead. Henry and Lucille Langston, the residents of a quaint house in Arcadia, Mo., are speechless at the sight of Jacob, their son who died thirty years ago after drowning in a river. Jacob’s aunt had died as well, after trying to save him … at least that was what her family, sheriff Fred and doctor-daughter Maggie, were led to believe. But Jacob quickly shatters their belief.

The reactions to Jacob’s return are mixed. Jacob’s father is unsure how to deal with his son’s reappearance, while his mother acts as if he never died. Pastor Tom, Jacob’s childhood best friend, struggles to understand God and faith after this unexplained event happened.

I feel emotionally invested in this show, which is what I always expect to happen after watching an interesting show. My heart wrenched at the thought of a mother embracing her son, whom she had lost years ago. When Jacob appears on the front porch, he asks a nonchalant question that Henry answers reflexively. With his son’s voice ringing in his ears, the father’s face drops. We see the sheer disbelief on his face, and he is still as Jacob hugs him. That moment got to me. The episode also employs flashbacks that detail happier times for the Langstons, causing me to wonder: What if Jacob hadn’t died?

The characters in this new drama are left with more questions at the end of the episode, when another person returns from the dead.

My only problem with this pilot episode was the blandness of Marty, played by Omar Epps from Fox’s “House.” Usually in pilots we get a taste of a main character haunted by his past, but it’s either the acting or the writing that keeps me from actually caring about Marty. The writers need to give viewers more hints to his past.

I was a huge fan of “The 4400,” which had a similar premise where 4,400 people returned, unaged and with no memories. Initially, people thought they were abducted by aliens (that wasn’t the reason, but I won’t spoil it for you). No signs of aliens right now in “The Resurrection.” I would stick around to learn the cause of Jacob’s reappearance.

It seems more people are willing to stay with the show: According to Nielsen ratings, 13.9 million viewers turned out for the series’ premiere on Sunday.

Fairfield restaurant Baró comforts and delights

Photo by Loan Le

Photo by Loan Le

After entering Baró, an establishment tucked away on the Brickwalk Promenade, a colorful streetscape mural welcomes hungry eaters. It pays homage to the melting of Latin, Spanish, and Caribbean cultures evident in the food that is served at the nearly 3-month-old restaurant. The Saturday crowd appears plentiful but not overwhelming during lunch hour.

An eight-person communal table is ensconced behind a large gray-brown wooden wall. Dangling from the ceiling are lamps contained in cork glass bottles. The walls and floors are painted forest chic – earth colors like brown, faded yellow and muddled white, enough to comfort guests as they chat about mundane details of their lives.

The restaurant separates itself into three sections. The right side features smaller tables for more intimate gatherings. This also includes seats near the kitchen, with a window allowing customers to see the inner workings of Baró’s kitchen, enjoying the business that is usually behind doors and separated from the dining crowd. Baró then offers two tables for larger crowds. In Latin American cultures, any mealtime equates many smaller dishes for many people. The remaining portion of Baró can easily transform into a gathering place for lovers of wine and cocktails. During lunch hour, the sun’s rays bounce off multicolored bottles of alcohol. Such drinks offered include Flower of Nicaragua, a concoction of  Flor de Caña silver rum, sage, yellow chartreuse, soda and more, and soothsayer, bourbon, honey ginger syrup, pomegranate and lemon. This side also boasts long gray tables and stools fit for gatherings of smaller groups.

As mentioned before, the menu mostly focuses on smaller dishes, so that guests can order many to share.

The tartare is either raw meat or tuna that is finely chopped, tossed with a bit of lime and various vegetables. Baró’s tartare, or tartar, has grass-fed beef – which is usually lower in calories and has healthier fats than grain-fed beef – mixed with chili pepper flakes, served on top of gem lettuce, and tostada.  The presentation appears simple and minimalistic, nothing artificial, with natural colors standing out by themselves.   The dish has nothing visually wrong with it, though the same cannot be said for its conceptualization. Tostada typically refers to a deep-fried item, usually an element with crunch, but having the other components on top caused it to become soggy.

Pato borracho, from the taco section, the restaurant’s rising star, consists of duck confit – typically made from the duck’s leg – caramelized onions, saffron aioli and yuca. The aforementioned items sit atop one house-made tortilla, made from corn masa. Masa is used to also make arepas and tamales. Though a flavorful mix sure to delight the palate, the dish lacks more textures.

Baró also offers cubanitos, one of many picaderas, or appetizers, on menu. It is a smaller version of a sandwich dish on the menu. Layered between crunchy, in-house pressed bread are thin slices of roasted pork, ham, melted swiss, pickle and mustard, which tasted more like a spiced mayonnaise. Instead of regular pickles, Baró utilizes what seems to be the pickle’s skin. Without the mustard, this sandwich would be considerably dry.

This Latin-American style cantina elevates the palate but remains down-to-earth with its décor.

Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 5 to 9 p.m.

Price: Student-friendly

Website: http://www.baroct.com

Lubovitch illuminates human nature through dance

Dancers Katarzyna Skarpetowska and Brian McGinnis performing in "Crisis Variations." Photo by Paula Lobo.

Dancers Katarzyna Skarpetowska and Brian McGinnis performing in “Crisis Variations.” Photo by Paula Lobo.

Lar Lubovitch choreographs based on human quality. It is his aim, as he said in a post-show interview at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts, to evoke a sensation, not a story, out of his viewers.

But the audience, as humans, may construct stories to make sense of what they witness on stage – and what they saw was breathtaking.

A playful choreography opened the Oct. 4 show, featuring characters who attempted to find their path in life, only to be discouraged as the dance progressed. The following duets focused on relationships between a man and woman: one that is mutually strong, like a bull fighting a bull, while the other a game of cat and mouse in a curtains-lifted display of emotional and physical abuse. The concluding piece provided an amusing take on the word “crisis.”

The company opened the night with “Transparent Things,” set to Claude Debussy’s “String Quartet in G Minor, Opus 10.” According to the program, Lubovitch drew inspiration from Pablo Picasso’s “Family of Saltimbanques,” a painting that shows characters looking off into the distance, pensive, and living a “fragile existence.” Lubovitch compared these subjects to his dancers, who also choose to embrace unsure lives in the name of art.

In one segment of this dance, the tempo slowed and with it the dancers’ movement. Attila Joey Csiki, who opened the dance, sunk to the floor and went still, as if life had gone from him. The lights transitioned to emit a blue, ethereal background. Csiki’s friends witnessed him downtrodden and like a domino effect, his friends adopted the same sullen disposition.

They became more rooted to the ground as opposed to their springy, carefree leaps at the beginning of the dance. A quiet ambience settled among the dancers, and there, with the ending, a universal downside was exposed: dance as “an art that only exists when it is actually happening,” as the program said.

As impressive as the first dance was, the duets and concluding dances were far more compelling.

In “Vez,” a reimagined version of Lubovitch’s “Fandango” choreography from 1989 that is set to Randall Woolf’s “Vez,” there were moments when partners Nicole Corea and Clifton Brown would not touch, but the sensual and sexual chemistry between them could not be more evident. This is the power of dance: its ability to connect participants through how the body moves and not just through bodily contact.

But when Corea and Brown did touch, they often intertwined their bodies around each other, becoming one. “Vez” proved to be a sparring and combative conversation between two dancers – both sides determined to win.

“The Time Before The Time After,” choreographed in 1971, made its return as the second-to-last performance of the night. Seconds into the dance, with a spotlight fixed on partners Reed Luplau and Katarzyna Skarpetowska, the audience sensed tension just about to boil over. Luplau stood posed, a hand about to strike Skarpetowska. Then, Igor Stravinsky’s “Concertino for String Quartet” picked up and a dance was set in motion.

Skarpetowska initially maintained a strong presence, bounding away from her partner, only to be stopped by Luplau’s vice-like grip on her wrist or his hand pulling her back by the hair. At its core, this dance narrated a life of inescapable violent intimacy.

In a particular phase of the dance, the music tempo slowed down and Skarpetowska’s fighting will went with it. The audience knew that the dancer depended on her lover, but what also became clear was that Luplau was nothing without her. His ability to exert dominance depended on his prey; with sharp twists and pivots and unyielding extensions, Luplau gained his power by depleting Skarpetowska’s.

By the end, she gave in and slid down to the floor, back onto her knees, subservient, and Luplau gathered her into a possessive embrace, devoid of comfort. The experience came across as voyeuristic, with the audience witnessing a gripping occurrence, instigated by Skarpetowska and Luplau’s magnetic movement onstage.

The most disconcerting and high-energy choreography could be found in the closing piece, “Crisis Variations.” Once again, the company brought back all of its dancers. Lubovitch revealed in a post-show Q-and-A that the music, which usually inspires his choreography, took a backseat role. He only taught his dancers the moves and rhythm he expected, and then the dancers heard the commissioned music score a day before premiering in 2011.

The purpose of this last-minute change? He wanted to maintain a sense of chaos and confusion – and he certainly succeeded.

The dancers’ movements appeared halting and seemingly accidental, their bodies lurching back and forth, like cars stuck in spasmodic traffic.

Skarpetowska took on another principal role, oftentimes allowing herself to be a ragdoll, carried and dragged across the stage by dancer Brian McGinnis. While the storyline for this piece was unclear – done surely on purpose by Lubovitch – the audience could feel the sensation of chaos.

With Friday night’s performances, Lubovitch proves that he still has a vision, even into his 50th year of choreography, and that his dance company, now in its 45th year, remains determined to help him construct it. It is also not necessarily a bad thing that dance is a fleeting art, with an impact that can only be experienced live. It means that each choreographed performance can exalt itself as new and powerful. For now, Lubovitch and his dancers manage to extend the life of dance until the company’s next performance.

The company will continue to celebrate its 45th anniversary with performances at The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Ave. and 19th Street, from Oct. 8 to 13 and Oct. 15 to 20.

A sweet startup

Snickerdoodle cookies. Photo: Esther Kum/Estie Cakes

Snickerdoodle cookies. Photo: Esther Kum/Estie Cakes

When Esther Kum was younger, she often baked with her mother. It was nothing special; they used pre-made cake mixes from the box, but she thought it was all fun.

It wasn’t until the summer of 2012 that the junior, who’s studying mathematics and minoring in education, started baking from scratch out of pure curiosity.

“I’ve always been iffy about baking from scratch because I’ve heard from people that it can be tedious because baking is a science,” Kum said. “But I tried it out one time over the summer and it’s something that I’ve loved doing ever since.”

Now she makes mini moscato cupcakes, vanilla pudding chocolate chip cookies, cinnamon sugar-dusted French breakfast rolls – you know, the usual baked goods that college students make in their free time.

Kum’s love for the art of baking has morphed into a startup called Estie Cakes that runs out of her Mahan kitchen and occasionally out of her home in Huntington, N.Y. She calls it a “dream” and hopes to eventually own a “decent-sized” bakery business later in life.

Estie Cakes began in mid-February and Kum made an official Facebook page for it just two weeks ago. As of yesterday, she has received 104 likes.

She never expected to start such a thing in college, especially since baking is hobby for her.

“It was never about business for me, and it still isn’t,” Kum said.

Her baking decorations are often inspired by “Cupcake Wars,” a Food Network reality competition that challenges four bakers across the country to make their best cupcakes which are judged on taste, presentation and theme. The most recent episode afforded one lucky baker the chance to cater a party at the I Heart Radio Music Festival in Las Vegas.

Though Kum is passionate about baking and bakes three to four times a week, she maintains that school is her first priority. Kum aspires to be an elementary school teacher – possibly in special education. Once she gets settled, she hopes to juggle these two.

Right now, balancing Estie Cakes and her schoolwork is “easier than I thought,” Kum said. While students might relieve stress through writing, reading and/or exercising, Kum uses baking as an outlet. She bakes when she needs “to take a break from homework and studying.”

Kum hopes to learn more about business and management in the future and is considering taking classes if her schedule allows her it.

For some small start-ups, companies use guerilla tactics to get their name out there. But Kum doesn’t need an advertising team; she has her friends and family.

The whole idea of Estie Cakes actually started out as a way to share her baking with friends. She posted pictures on Instagram and Facebook.

In addition to using social media to show off her baked goods, she also uses Instagram and Facebook to represent a “baking journey” and her experiences of trial and error with recipes that she finds on the internet.

She is not sure how well this startup will be or in what direction it will go, but in the face of uncertain future, Kum remains optimistic about the task she is undertaking.

“Even if this [start-up] doesn’t take off in the future, at least it’s something that I can say that I tried to make happen, and it just happened to not work,” Kum said.

Article published on April 3, 2013 in The Mirror

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.

“Breaking Dawn” is a satisfying but an unforgettable conclusion

In the final movie of the popular romance-fantasy Twilight franchise, “Breaking Dawn: Part 2,” viewers see that young lovestruck teenager Bella Cullen (Kristen Stewart) is forever changed. After giving birth to a half-vampire, half-human baby while still in human form, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) had to change her when he realized he’d lose her otherwise.

This Bella is beautiful, strong and fiercely protective of not only the Cullens, but also her new family. It seems that Stewart, whose acting is commonly compared to that of a stuttering robot – and this refers to viewers’ frustration with her inability to exhibit a wide range of emotions – has graduated to a functioning human. Congratulations.

Bella’s child, Renesmee, or Nessie, is introduced to Twilight fans, played by newcomer Mackenzie Fay, who does bear a great resemblance to her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Cullen. Bella soon finds out that Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) has imprinted on Renesmee, meaning he has chosen her as a life mate. Suffice it to say, this immediately breaks apart the love triangle that many Twilight fans have obsessed over for the years.

Renesmee, it turns out, has the gift of transferring her thoughts and memories to other people through touch. Also, because of her unique DNA, she ages more quickly than the normal child.

Stewart and Fay have a surprisingly believable chemistry, and Pattinson plays the part of a protective and devoted father well.

One day, a vampire from a nearby clan spots Renesmee playing with Taylor and Bella, and she mistakes the child for a dangerous Immortal Child. The witness then rushes to Italy to inform the Volturi, the powerful vampire government run by the oldest vampires to exist, of this “crime.”

Centuries ago, it became illegal to change children into vampires after one child had gone on a killing rampant, incapable of controlling its new thirst. The Volturi stepped in to get rid of this vampire-child and its “parent,” or the one who turned it.

When the Cullens realize that the Volturi will stop at nothing to put an end to this perceived crime, they start planning. Preferring to avoid war, Carlisle (Peter Facinelli), the head of the Cullen clan, decides they must recruit other vampires from the Denali, Irish and nomadic clans as witnesses to attest to Nessie’s existence as a hybrid, not as an Immortal Child.

The movie finishes with an epic battle between the Volturi and vampires and their werewolf allies. Thanks, Jacob.

There’s one thing in this movie that needs praise: The choreography and cinematography for the battle scenes were masterfully done and fast-paced. Who knows? Maybe the boyfriends and husbands who were dragged to the movie even liked these final scenes.

With the gathering of vampires from across the globe, a lot of minor characters show up in this film, and it’s actually sad that they got little screen time. A witty and seductive vampire played by Lee Pace might have been an American Patriot back in the day, and he is actually funny, delivering his humorous lines without causing the audience to flinch. He woos Kate (Casey LaBow), a member of the Denali clan, and their love connection is established in just a few scenes. Not to say anything against Bella and Edward’s connection, which started when she saw him eyeing her angrily in biology class…

Some characters shine through among the mediocre acting that took up most of the movie. Dakota Fanning was brilliantly deviant as the sadistic vampire Jane, and actor Michael Sheen, who played head vamp Aro, was sufficiently creepy and overwhelmingly gleeful at the possibility of inflicting punishment on the Cullens.

It’s a disappointment that the special effects of “Twilight” haven’t changed since that fateful day when Pattinson scaled up a tree with Stewart (read: spider monkey) on his back. Baby Renesmee was composed through computer-generated imagery, but unlike the success that CGI had with the werewolves in previous films, little Renesmee ended up looking cute but ultimately unrealistically composed.

The “Twilight” book and movie franchise does not have the same sentimental value as, say, “Harry Potter,” which people of all ages grew up with. So the ending of “Breaking Dawn: Part 2″ was expected, but not seen as monumental.

“Arrow” nearly misses the mark

Five years ago, billionaire playboy Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), while in a life raft after his yacht capsized, witnesses the suicide of his father. To him, this means the sudden loss of his kind-hearted, patient father. To Starling City, it means the loss of a tycoon who owned and controlled much of the city. This sets off the whole plot of the new The CW show “Arrow.”

Before killing himself, Robert Queen tells his son to right his wrongs and restore Starling City to its former glory. In this one statement, his father admits his failure as a businessman and also encourages his son to become a better person than he was.

After being saved by remote fishermen, Oliver returns to find the city in shambles, rampant with lowly vermin and corrupt yuppies. Keeping his father’s words in mind, Oliver takes it upon himself to dispose of the poison in Starling City by becoming Arrow, the green-hooded vigilante who takes down the corrupt on “The List,” using the skills he acquired after years of being marooned on an island.

In doing this, Oliver must also fool his friends and family by balancing his secret identity with his identity as the prodigal son returned.

In the most recent episode on Nov. 8, “Damaged,” Detective Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) believes he has found Arrow when he spots Oliver on tape at the scene of a recent murder. Oliver knows the truth, but of course, the public has little reason to believe that he could be Arrow. For one, they think he is still the same lawless playboy from five years ago. They also believe that Lance, whose daughter had died when Oliver’s yacht capsized, is just out for blood.

Oliver is surprisingly calm at these accusations, although in this show, the actor Amell is only capable of exhibiting the stiff calmness of a monk. His arrest, the viewers learn, is all part of Oliver’s plan.

Defended by morally straight lawyer Laurel (Katie Cassidy), Oliver’s ex-girlfriend and the other daughter of Detective Lance, Oliver is free on house arrest. Detective Lance believes he’s gotten Oliver in a corner, but then, later, when the handiwork of Arrow occurs at the scene of a failed arms deal while the suspect is seen at home, Lance can’t do anything but let him go.

Oliver had actually enlisted the help of his former Marine bodyguard/confidant to distract the police. By the end of the episode, Oliver is back to playing the role of Starling City’s vigilante.

The show has a lot plot holes that desperately need some explanation. For one, when Oliver “returns from the dead,” he sets up a secret lair for himself in one of his father’s old, abandoned companies, because what superhero shouldn’t have his own place to chillax in? A question that needs to be answered is: How does he get the money to buy all of this, especially since he doesn’t work to earn income himself? The money most likely comes from the family account, so how does Oliver hide these funds from his mother’s knowledge?

Also, through flashbacks, viewers learn that Oliver was a fun-loving guy back in the day. Yet, when returning to civilization, he takes on the role of a highly intelligent vigilante/assassin, capable of speaking languages like Russian, even though he was marooned on a Chinese island? Does being isolated on an island for five years cause one to grow a brain? Apparently so for Oliver.

The originality of the plot is also debated. Starling City can be seen as a sexier – and can it be said darker – version of Gotham City. Oliver-Arrow is just another Batman, except his attire doesn’t mimic a flying creature, and his voice doesn’t sound like your 70-year-old grandpa who used to smoke religiously. This comparison would make sense since “Arrow” is based on the comic book series “Green Arrow,” published by the famous DC Comics. And guess what? Batman is published by the same company.

“Arrow” does have some shining moments. One of the more interesting relationships exists between Oliver and John Diggle (David Ramsey), the former Marine bodyguard whom Moira Queen (Susanna Thompson) hires for her only son’s protection.

John slowly catches on to Oliver’s mysterious disappearances at night and his crazy hand-to-hand combat moves. Thus far, he is the only one to know about Oliver’s vigilante status. John is a character with morals, inherently knowing that what Oliver is doing is unlawful, yet also knowing that the corrupt Starling City businessmen are worse off and cannot be stopped without Arrow’s interference.

Viewers then learn that Moira might have played a hand in the mysterious way the ship had capsized in the first place. Moira is revealed to be in possession of the Queen Gambit wreckage, a discovery that causes strain between her and her husband Walter Steele (Colin Salmon).

Even though there are so many questions that need to be answered, viewers seem to be hanging on to “Arrow,” waiting for that moment when Oliver’s outside identity collides with his perfectly fabricated secret identity.

“Arrow” was granted a full season on Oct. 22 by The CW. “Damaged” was the the network’s “most watched episode since the series premiere,” with 3.75 million viewers, according to Nielsen television ratings. The next episode will be on tonight at 8 p.m.

Rowling’s new book is less than enchanting

In February 2012, fans of the fantasy book and movie series “Harry Potter” received news that J.K. Rowling would publish another book. Their enthusiasm was slightly dampened by confusion when Rowling said she had switched over to writing for adults.

“The Casual Vacancy,” released on Sept. 27, is about an idyllic town that significantly changes after the death of well-known councilor Barry Fairbrother. Barry’s death results in a ‘casual vacancy,’ an empty spot on the Pagford council.

Eventually the townspeople must decide on who should replace the deceased. Most importantly, the inheritor of Barry’s seat would determine the fate of the Fields, a housing project that is a blemish on the perfect façade of sleepy Pagford.

The fight for the seat leads to what Little, Brown and Company had described as “the biggest war the town has yet seen.” However, what the novel’s summary boasts is not fulfilled because the plot falls flat.

Each chapter consists of different characters’ coping with Barry’s death and the imminent voting that would change the town. Naturally, one would think more characters would add plenty of colors to the plot. The saying is: “The more, the merrier.” Yet, this gets repetitive and monotonous.

Crammed into the first 350 pages are descriptions of the town of Pagford and day-to-day thoughts of too many characters to count. The rest of the 500-paged novel details the characters’ emotional unraveling. Loyalties are reconsidered. Families break apart. Posts revealing secrets about the running candidates slowly appear on the Pagford council’s website and further enrage locals when the user’s name is The_Ghost_of_Barry_Fairbrother.

Harry Potter fans might resort, out of sheer boredom, to comparing this novel to the beloved series, but the only comparable aspect is a Vernon Dursley doppelganger named Howard Mollison, who is a pot-bellied, lecherous councilman with an abhorrence for the Fields. His wife Shirley, a gossiper, most definitely fits the mold of Vernon’s horse-faced wife, Petunia Dursley. Otherwise, Rowling does succeed in separating herself from her bestselling series.

Though the plot falls flat and characters crowd the novel’s pages, Rowling deserves praise for her story-telling; she has the sought-after ability to conjure (see what happened there?) a different world. Sadly, this fictional world is just not as interesting as the wizarding world.

When Rowling said this was an adult novel, she was definitely correct. Within the first hundred pages of “The Casual Vacancy,” the story branches into topics of sex, drugs and affairs. One sexually frustrated wife fantasizes about the men in town. The son of the local school’s headmaster fornicates with the daughter of a drug-addicted woman from the Fields. Every curse word in the dialogue causes a jolt, a sheer indication that Rowling has, in fact, moved on.

Recently, at the Cheltenham Literature Festival in England, Rowling said she would return to writing a children’s book. Perhaps this might be a better choice for Rowling.

A different kind of princess

The world of Disney is unveiling a princess who might just be able to kick other princesses’ royal behinds.

Disney Pixar released yet another extended theatrical trailer for “Brave” yesterday. The movie will join the likes of “Toy Story,” “Up” and “Wall-E.”

Princess Merida, the protagonist of the feature film, lives in the rustic Highlands of Scotland, which is shadowed in mystery and run by tradition. Her father, King Fergus, rules the land. Princess Merida has unruly red hair that could rival the bushiness of book version Hermione Granger’s hair, a rough Scottish brogue and triplet brothers who are more than willing to participate in her fun and games.

Based on the trailer, there’s a tradition that says the princess must marry a Scottish lord. Yet Princess Merida is strong and independent and would rather “stay single and let [her] hair flow in the wind as [she rides] through the land, flying arrows into the sunset,” according to her father.

Ultimately, her staunch resistance to the court’s norms causes disappointment with her parents and talk from the kingdom’s people. Princess Merida wants her fate to change and seeks a witch who can do that for her. But this is where her plans go wrong, and she must prove her courage in righting them.

Brave diverges from the typical Disney kingdom-set feature films because of the protagonist’s free-spirited, fiery and independent and the presence of a motherly figure in the film.

Often in Disney movies with a royal theme, the (step)mother of the princess is either horribly cruel or neglectfully absent.

Look at the examples: Snow White’s mother tries to kill her with a poisoned apple. Cinderella’s stepmother treats her like a slave and prizes her dumb and dumber daughters. Sleeping Beauty’s Aurora grows up in a cottage, away from her mother for her own protection. As evident from the trailer, Merida’s mother, Queen Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson), tries to secure the best future for her headstrong daughter.

Well, Princess Merida makes it hard for the Queen to plan her future.

The suitors that Princess Merida must choose from are painfully unappealing. One scene has them displaying their ‘skills’ in archery. The next scene shows Princess Merida beating all three and the incredulous reaction of the crowd. That’s right, Katniss. You might have a rival in Princess Merida.

Most of the Disney princess need to be saved – from their broken homes, other nasty suitors and assassination attempts from vain and vicious queens. If it weren’t for Prince Charming, Cinderella would still be slaving for her stepmother. Without Aladdin, Princess Jasmine would have had to marry the lecherous Jafar. If Sleeping Beauty didn’t get that kiss, she’d still be in La-La land.

Princess Merida, the heroine in "Brave."

To make up for the ‘trials and tribulations’ that these princesses have to go through and also to appease the audience, moviemakers often allow the princesses to have happy endings: uncharacteristically good looking, and sensitive husbands who claim they will protect their princesses for life.

Well, this is the day and age where the U.S. Census in 2007 says the number of divorced or widowed people in America is 36 million. Men who attempt to charm women with such lies would probably earn a scoff rather than a swoon.

I’m not trying to say that romance is not a good thing, but if a kid watches one of these Disney movies religiously, he or she might have some highly unrealistic expectations for his or her own future romances. Princess Merida shows that marriage is not the first thing on her list – and that’s perfectly fine.

The adventure in the feature film also sets it apart. Arrows, horseriding, swordfighting are all expected to be part of the plot. In one scene of the trailer, Princess Merida jumps into the air, trying to escape the grasp of some terrifying creature with claws that seriously need to be clipped. But then the screen fades away, holding the audience in suspense.

“Brave” won’t be released until June 22, but for the time being, the parents will be glad to know that there’s a new female role model for their daughters at the end of the wait.