Weaving together words: Students, laureate recite poetry at libraryPublished 10:15am Friday, April 12, 2013
A score of Austin Public Schools students put forth their artistic side Thursday evening.
The student finalists of the Richard Eberhart Poetry Contest, which were chosen from a pool of 511 entries from across the district, read their poems during “A Night with Our Poets” at the Austin Public Library. After, guest speaker and Minnesota poet laureate Joyce Sutphen took the stage.
“I think it’s fair to say each of you young poets here today have a talent for writing,” David Wolff, Gifted and Talented coordinator, told the crowd.
Many of the younger students’ poems sparked laughter in the audience. They were short and punchy, describing weather, scenery and outdoor activities. Elliot Wolff read a limerick he wrote about an ape at the zoo, while Samuel Oelkfe wrote about his trip to Niagara Cave.
When the middle and high school students took the stage, the poems’ moods became more serious. They confronted issues such as the privilege of wealth and the worthwhile trials of being a sibling.
An audience of about 50 people applauded the poets, and parents snapped photos of their children.
“The poems just come alive when the children read them,” Wolff said.
Participants in the 2013 Eberhart Poetry Contest and the Austin High School Language Arts Department judged the poems. The winners, who were chosen from each school, will receive a cash award of $25 for kindergarten, $50 for elementary, $100 for middle school and $200 for high school, funded by the Austin Public Education Foundation.
Sutphen commended the students during her talk after the winners were announced.
“This is really amazing to hear the poems tonight,” she said, adding jokingly the students had an easier time rhyming than she did, thanks to her generation’s emphasis on free verse. “I will get there eventually.”
Sutphen, a University of Minnesota graduate who grew up in Stearns County and later went on to publish four poetry books, talked about how she came up with the subjects of her poems, and some of her current projects. She said her Minnesotan side shone through in “Girl on a Tractor,” a poem about how she used to drive a tractor to collect hay.
“I loved being outside,” she said, recalling how she followed her father around on the farm and helped with chores.
Poems about sadness or loss are more difficult to read before an audience, Sutphen said. Last summer, she wrote a poem to mark the Interstate 35-W bridge memorial, which opened in dedication to those who lost their lives during the August 2007 bridge collapse in Minneapolis.
One prevalent theme in Sutphen’s writing is the concept of chance and what could have been. Her poems address accidents that nearly took place and the ones that did, but that she survived.
Sutphen also said her newest book, “After Words,” will soon come out.
Richard Eberhart was a Pulitzer-prize winning poet. His childhood started in Austin, where his father was the vice president of the Hormel Meat Packing Company. The Eberhart Family Poetry Contest began in 2005, the year of his death, when his children established the contest in his honor.