High school student honored for poetry

Broadneck senior finalist to be Presidential Scholar

January 25, 2004|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

Marc Hoffman, a soft-spoken student with a pleasant smile that reveals a mouthful of braces, normally doesn't stand out much at his Anne Arundel County high school.

That's because few of the Broadneck High senior's teachers or fellow students know of his other persona: that of a talented writer who has written hundreds of poems since he was 10 years old.

But since he won one of the most prestigious student writing honors in the country, the Annapolis teen-ager has gotten an unusual share of attention.

One evening last week, the county's eight Board of Education members stood in a row to shake hands with the finalist in an annual writing competition for high school students sponsored by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts.

The roughly 120 finalists in disciplines including writing, music, theater and visual arts make up the talent pool from which Presidential Scholars in the Arts are selected each year.

Superintendent Eric J. Smith gushed about the accomplishment. "I'm just overwhelmed," Smith said. "I think it's a credit ... to the great job his teachers have been doing."

And Principal Lucinda Hudson said she plans to read one of Hoffman's poems over the loudspeaker during Broadneck High's morning announcements. "They are absolutely incredible," she said.

Although Hoffman, 18, finds the lavish praise "nice," he says he didn't enter his body of work in the contest for the attention or the prize money, which ranges from $100 to $10,000. The size of each finalist's award will be announced Friday. He says he wanted validation for his work, a sign that he has done something right during hours spent in his room scribbling in notebooks or typing on the computer in his family's kitchen.

Hoffman names among his influences the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Charles Simic. He says his inspiration can come from a variety of places - a Bob Dylan song or a column of ants invading the kitchen or an interesting word found in a dictionary.

"I kind of believe in a poetic purging," he says. "I keep writing and writing and writing. I have this theory that I'll get better and better."

The best part of the writing honor - shared by 20 high school students nationwide - was going to Florida this month to meet other young artists at a week of workshops and art exhibitions sponsored by the Miami-based nonprofit foundation, and realizing that "I'm not in my own little bubble," he said.

Hoffman says the experience strengthened his determination to pursue a career in writing.

He hopes to get a liberal arts degree, then try his hand at writing plays or movie scripts. And he's not ruling out writing for television, noting The Simpsons and The Daily Show as two of his favorite programs.

"I don't think I could envision myself as a starving artist, unless I marry a really rich girl or something," he says. "But I think there'll always be time for poetry in my life."

In Her Kitchen

In this house the kitchen is larger.

The windows let elegant squares of sunlight

Drip across the marble floor like the wet footmarks

Of a joyous child running, naked, out of the bathtub.

This is all merely a dream of a dream, her different life.

The woman in her kitchen is a mother through with dreaming

And defining such words as sacrifice and desire.

Her kitchen is a cage of wallpaper covered with pastel flower heads

That crowd in around her, holding her life in their pulpy mouths

As though she were a storm of rain.

Her heart is a window with many hands pounding against it, Making the sound of thunder.

Black ants are dancing below the windowsill.

She crushes them at the head and abdomen

Until they lie at the edge of her fingernail: motionless.

The sunlight is a wild homeless man fallen from the sky.

He staggers out of the window and sprawls down

On the weary tile floor.

The sink is filled with dirty plates, each containing a crumb

She can attach a name to. In one plate, she knows the dark crumbs

Are from pizza crust. The wet green stem and white seeds

On the side are left from the pepperoncini.

However, she can't remember the names of her sons,

Or the name of her husband, while in the kitchen.

And if she saw one of her bones in the middle of a plate,

She would not be able to identify herself either.

Her heart is a window with much

Shouting and screaming coming from behind it.

Her fingers swipe over the stove surface.

She looks into the eyes of the burners.

Inside this oven door is tonight's dinner, she thinks.

Outside this oven door

Her heart is a window with fire pouring out of it.

She's a slave in her house,

A blackface, twenty-first century wife trapped in the 1950s.

She's raw meat being served to a lion

Inside a cage in the Washington Zoo.

- Marc Hoffman

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