Armed with a pen in their hands and a message in their hearts, approximately 100 students earned distinction from the St. Louis-based 7th Grade Poetry [7GP] Foundation as Missouri and Illinois poet laureates.
Founder Aaron Williams said that, through the forum of self-expression that poetry offers, his charity celebrates the midpoint from kindergarten to 12th-grade education with an opportunity for a “write of passage.”
“Anyone can write a great poem and everyone deserves that chance,” Williams explained.
The 2016 7GP program culminates in a celebration of winning words that combines live poetry readings by Missouri and Illinois students with filmed readings from students in 16 other states. Included among the honored poets were Samantha Irwin, Cate McGinnis and Kelsey Auer.
Irwin, a seventh-grade student at St. Mark’s Lutheran School in Eureka, presented her winning poem, “The Roller Coaster of Sisterhood,” at 7GP’s “Poetry on Our Terms” event, held April 13 at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park.
She explained that the subject of the poem is her relationship with her sisters.
“They inspired me to write my poem because they’re always there for me even through all the ups and downs,” Irwin shared. While Irwin’s teacher encouraged participation in the event, ultimately it was because her older sister had submitted a poem in the same event years earlier that she chose to participate.
Auer, a student at Holy Infant School in Ballwin, said her poem was originally part of an earlier school assignment. Entitled “The Hidden Part of Me,” the poem reflects the different sides that a person has, including their personality traits and emotions. She said she found inspiration by focusing on the different feelings and moods that other kids her age experience.
“This is my favorite piece because I know it relates to everyone. I think anyone who reads it can identify with all these moods,” Auer said. “I’m sure some people could add another part to it to highlight another emotion.”
Christ, Prince of Peace student McGinnis wrote “Earth’s Fate,” which imagines the possibilities of our planet’s future. While winning, and receiving a $25 stipend, was certainly fun, McGinnis said she looks forward to being published in a book. Students, their educators, schools and public libraries each receive a donated copy of “Poetry on Our Terms,” the anthology in which the students are published.
“I thought it was exciting to be recognized, published and paid for doing an assignment,” Auer said. “That never happens!”
Another favorite moment of all three of the young poets was meeting Michael Castro, St. Louis’ first poet laureate. Castro was one of the award presenters at this year’s event, which was held during National Poetry Month. Auer said she was inspired not just by Castro, but by hearing the poems read by other students.
“I learned how poetry can come to life when it is read aloud. It is so much more interesting to hear a poet read their own poem,” she shared.
Irwin said the event gave her confidence to speak in a public forum and encouraged other seventh-graders to participate next year.
Other area poet laureates celebrated in this year’s event include Gaia Francis, of Parkway Central Middle, for “The Eyes Tell a Story;” Jeffrey Walk, of Parkway South Middle, for “Could Have Written;” Jennifer L. Green, of LaSalle Springs Middle, for “Fearless;” Kevin Yan, of Parkway Southwest Middle, for “One Simple Word;” and Leanna Blackmon, of LaSalle Springs Middle, for “Graduation.”