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The Poetic Souls of Middle School

Resource type: News

The Washington Post | Serena McIntyre is barely 12, but already the Columbia Heights sixth-grader has suffered the slings and arrows of middle-school fortune. A boy did her wrong. So she wrote “The Love-Drained Blues.” I fell in love. With a so sweet boy When I came here I was treated like a toy. Just before Valentine’s Day, Serena was one of 10 poets honored at the second annual Literary Love Poetry Performance. Their verse offered a peek into middle-school hearts on affairs from love and death to candy and stuffed animals. The winners of a regional competition, chosen from more than 150 entrants, read their original works a week ago at the District’s National Music Center and Museum Foundation. The contest was sponsored by Higher Achievement, a nonprofit after-school program in the District and Alexandria that helps fifth- through eighth-graders from disadvantaged communities improve their grades and apply to competitive high schools. It aims to broaden students’ horizons by engaging them in such activities as poetry and debate and to provide them with academic mentoring. At the event, the poets dressed in jewel-colored gowns, sharp ties and sophisticated black ensembles. Several granted pre-performance interviews about The Muse. “Well, one time my class was getting in too much trouble, and my teacher said someone had to step up to the plate and be a leader,” said Maria Lumbre, an eighth-grader from the District. “I was sick and tired of nobody stepping up.” That feeling moved her, she said, to write a poem about Martin Luther King Jr. The poem of Naomi Stanford, a D.C. fifth-grader, compared love to war: The apple of love is sweet/ And the apple of war is spoiled and rotten. Her teacher has a cousin who went to Iraq, she noted, but the poem was also about war at home. “I was thinking, like, about how when people are married and they love each other and they get into an argument,” she said. Some named Langston Hughes or Shakespeare as inspiration. Others were moved by inanimate objects. “You know how everybody thinks of Valentine’s Day as love and stuff?” asked Ashley Neill, 12, of Alexandria. “Well, I wanted to express it in a different way.” Her poem, “Candy,” evokes a paradise of Gummi Worms (her favorite) but also introduces a serpent (the “angry dentist”). After a performance by local spoken-word artist Sista Joy, a spotlight fell on the first student poet. “I l-o-v-e basketball,” declared Percell Watson, 12, of Alexandria, whose poem echoed the rhythmic elements of rap. It’s a cool sport the way we move up a court I can put the ball in the hoop or pass it up for an ally-oop I will dribble which every way or step back for the Kobe fadeaway Microphone in one hand, Percell used the other to pantomime a dribble, shoot at an imaginary basket and pass to an invisible teammate. Other performers gesticulated dramatically, hands planted sassily on hips, arms outstretched in supplication, voices swelling with diva-like passion. The audience “aww”-ed when Avery James, 12, of the District, cradled an imaginary newborn, and “mmm”-ed like a church congregation when Maria thanked the Lord for her newfound confidence. They grew quiet when, in “A Love Yet Lost,” Alexander Faunteroy, 13, of the District, spoke of the death of his uncle, a police officer who had been a surrogate father to him. Without you I’m lost. A being not even worthy of being It’s like my ears not hearing And my eyes not seeing. His grandmother, Diana Faunteroy, called him a “poet-rapper.” “In the environment that we live in, I’m very aware that it could go either way, and he’s always made correct choices,” she said. Greglena Sanders, a D.C. sixth-grader, wailed about indignities that had befallen her love object. The day you were torn apart I saw them humiliate you . . . I saw them stitch You up the day they took you away The “you,” she explained offstage, was a stuffed giraffe, ripped open by her older sister and mended by her mother. “It’s been through a lot,” she said. “Being torn, being cried on.” Greglena learned Wednesday that life can imitate art. The giraffes were once her favorite exhibit at the National Zoo, but she hadn’t been there for a while and had not known that one had also had stitches, then died of cancer. “I never heard of the tragic incident,” she said, adding that perhaps that was a good thing as her poetic soul might not have been able to bear it.

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