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Young Richmond poets receive awards

on November 17, 2010

It was hard to find a seat or even standing room at last night’s city council meeting. Students, parents, and teachers packed the room to honor 48 young poets—many of them elementary school students—who entered the first Richmond Writes contest sponsored by the city’s Arts and Culture Commission.

For the contest, teachers asked students to write a Japanese haiku, a 17-syllable form of poetry, about the recently concluded Blossom and Thorns exhibit at the Richmond Art Center. According to Michele Seville, the commission’s manager, the idea for the haiku contest started back in September when the commission wanted to honor Arts and Humanities month (in October) as well as encourage the community to see the exhibit. Blossom and Thorns covered the history of the Japanese greenhouses in Richmond that were abandoned when owners and their families were forced to move to internment camps during WWII.

If students weren’t able to get to the exhibit for inspiration, they were prompted to write on themes from the exhibit: leaving home and starting over; keeping your culture alive; dealing with loss or losing all your friends.

Maya Simpson and Cienna Clark from Washington Elementary, first-place winners, were the first to read their poems to the crowd. Standing straight, Simpson read her first-place haiku titled Death:

“Shooting, killing, down

Sad, crying, funerals, death

ashes, home, empty”

Next, Clark followed with her piece, a stark contrast, titled Believe:

“We said together

I’m halfway there to compete

Win, you can do it”

All schools in Richmond were invited to participate but the greatest response came from Richmond elementary schools. Salesian High School and the LEAP adult education program students had the next highest level of participation. Nina Wani was the only student at De Anza High School to enter; she came in third for her thoughtful haiku, Resolute Roses:

“Toiling to survive

Seeking light through the windows

The roses still thrive”

Ten-year-old Anais Mendoza Rosekrans from Washington Elementary found out she won second place for her haiku, Nature Love, when the principal called to tell her mother the news.  “I screamed,” Anais said, beaming. “I was really excited.”

Roger Li, a first place winner from Salesian High School, was the last to read his work:

“Roses still unveil

Work of gardeners who left

Shattered hearts and glass”

“The topics we suggested really hit a nerve with the kids,” Seville said. “One of the teachers told me that after the class wrote and shared their poems with each other, they related to each other differently. It had a big impact on the classrooms and we’ll definitely do it again next year.”

Susan Antolin, a published haiku poet, was one of the three judges for the contest. “It was a pleasure and an honor to read so many authentic and powerful poems that gave a meaningful glimpse into everyday life in Richmond,” she said.

20101116_mayasimpsonhaiku|Maya Simpson from Washington Elementary||20101116_anaisrosekranshaiku|Anais Mendoza Rosekrans from Washington Elementary|
|20101116_chandanibattlehaiku|Chandani Battle from Washington Elementary||20101116_dohertyhaiku|Emmanuel Doherty from Sheldon Elementary||20101116_rogerlihaiku2|Roger Li from Salesian High School|

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