Youthful poetry earns accolades

Contest: Winners of Howard County Public Library's "The Write Stuff" share their works in Columbia.

April 27, 2000|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

For 12-year-old Jessica McElroy, writing the words was a breeze but saying them was another matter.

Jessica, a seventh-grader at Patuxent Valley Middle School, was one of the winners of "The Write Stuff," Howard County Public Library's poetry contest for youths. Winners and those receiving honorable mentions presented their original works during a reading Tuesday at Borders Books & Music in Columbia.

Jessica stood by shyly as judge Karen Arnold read her poem "Mask."

"I feel as though I don't belong, my life is told in one short song," Arnold read as one arm hugged the bashful scribe. "My world is down, deep and low, and every day I have nothing to show."

The competition was the library's second annual contest to recognize young poets. Contestants were divided into two categories, ages 10 to 13 and 14 to 17. A six-member committee judged the poems on originality, clarity, coherence, substance and subject.

Those reading their works had been selected from 128 entries in the high school category and 168 entries in the middle school category. Winners received cash prizes of $50, $30 and $20. Those with honorable mentions were given Borders gift certificates for $10 and $5.

Mostly poised and purposeful, the participants stepped forward one by one to share the emotions they had put on paper.

"In my dream, wings of peace will hover over the heart of every child and defeat the cold chill of bitterness," 10-year-old Kellie Dress read from her first-place entry, "Mountain of Love."

"In my dream, the fire of hatred will be smothered by the pool of justice and unity."

Kellie, a fifth-grader at Crofton Meadows Elementary in Anne Arundel County, said she was inspired by the sadness she sometimes sees in the world.

"I was thinking about things I wish wouldn't happen," she said quietly. "Like when people are left out or when people won't share."

Jocelyn Heath, a 17-year-old senior at Wilde Lake High School, placed first in the 14- to 17-year-old category with a poem titled "Heritage."

Karen Arnold, one of the competition's judges, said she was pleased with the sophistication of emotions shown in the poetry.

She pointed out that accomplished poets such as Robert Frost and Langston Hughes also were recognized for their talent when they were young.

"What surprises me is that kids are so honest in their poems," said Arnold, who is also a poet. "They say things in their poems that they might not be able to say aloud. I think it's wonderful that they had a chance to get into a venue where they could get some attention and some affirmation," she said.

Kyrie Henderson, 17, placed second in the contest's high school category with her poem "The Quilt My Ma Made." The 11th-grader from Mount Hebron High School said she enjoys writing.

"It's just a way of expressing myself," Kyrie said. "I like to write about sad things because it's the best way to draw on the emotions of your audience."

Twelve-year-old David Waxenberg was honored as part of the Judges' Circle for his poem "A Gift," which described what poetry means to him. David, a sixth-grader at Clarksville Middle School, envisions a future in which he will continue to write freestyle verses and his favorites -- haiku.

"It's fun," David said. "I really like it."

Renee McElroy, Jessica's mother, said she was proud of her daughter even though she was too shy to read her work. McElroy said she first realized her daughter had writing talent after Jessica wrote a poem about slavery several years ago.

"She's been writing poetry since elementary school," McElroy said.

"Mom," her daughter interjected, "that wasn't real poetry."

"Oh, I'm sorry," McElroy said, smiling fondly. "That was your early work."

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