The Anatomy of a Championship Poem

Some award-winning poems transpire in one sitting. However, most poems require a writer's patience and persistence to reach their full potential. As a whole, a new poem may have good ideas, but with rewriting and refinement, it can sometimes achieve championship status.

This refinement is a process much like surgery; a writer must use his or her writing skills to fix parts that may not be of benefit to the body of the poem. Specific lines could be doing damage. Meticulous inspection of your poem can give it an edge over other poems. This refinement process is laid out for us in a series of e-mails between Rod Torreson, poet laureate of Grand Rapids, and Jennifer Kurth, a sixth grader who resides in Grand Rapids, and is a member of one of Torreson's writing groups. Through Torreson's suggestions and encouragement, Kurth was able to strengthen the weaker parts of her already excellent poem that reflects on her trip to Charlevoix, Michigan. As a result, she won First Place in the Junior Division of the 2008 Kent County Poetry Contest, which netted her the $100 prize and publication in Voices, an anthology of the winning entries in the competition.

Torreson's comments also prove helpful to young writers, as we are able to see some key elements in creating an award-winning poem: eliminating wordiness since it cuts to the heart of the poem, as well as using sharper images, since showing, not telling, is what usually proves most beneficial to a poem. Clichés, too, need to be eliminated because they are not original or fresh. In addition, using specific verbs translates to a more vibrant poem--one that rings true to its audience. Revisions such as these may give an edge to your poems. When reading the e-mails, notice how these elements help the poem develop before your eyes.

“ Lake Charlevoix ” by Jennifer Kurth
Grade 6, Our Savior Lutheran School

Jennifer wrote:
O my goodness!! i just got back from Charlevoix, and i was thinking of writing about it!! now I'll do it for sure.

On Jan 6, 2008 8:09 PM , Real Rod Torreson wrote:
Good to hear from you, Jennifer!! I hope you had a good time in Charlevoix. Regarding the poem, you can certainly work on it Thursday at writers' workshop; however, if you do have some time to work on it tonight and throughout the week, send me drafts, and I will promptly get them back to you.

Your fan,
Mr. Torreson

January 6: 8:31 PM (First Draft) Jennifer wrote:

Charlevoix
We walked out to the edge
where the water had created
a rippling wall of ice on the fence.
The jutting boulders, too,
had a shimmering coat of ice on their peaks.
The reflection of a sparkling sun
was sprawled onto the waves.
There was no land found
to my right or my left.
We trudged through white walks,
the snow remembering
the slightest curves of our feet.
We made our way behind the grand homes.
Whose elongated windows stared
at the climbing waves.
Their yachts would float there in the summertime-
living joyously on the lake of Charlevoix .

Sun, 6 Jan 2008 18:31:36 -0800 (PST)
Mr. Torreson wrote:
This is an excellent draft, Jennifer. Wow! You are making great strides as a poet. I will look carefully at the poem again tomorrow, but below you will find some comments. I certainly admire what you're doing here!

Charlevoix
We walked out to the edge
where the water had created
a rippling wall of ice on the fence. This is a fascinating line!
The jutting boulders, too, great verbs: "rippling, jutting, shimmering, sprawled"
And they are used in interesting ways, too!
had a shimmering coat of ice on their peaks.
The reflection of a sparkling sun
was sprawled onto the waves.
There was no land found
to my right or my left.
We trudged through white walks,
the snow remembering Having the snow "remembering" is wonderful.
the slightest curves of our feet. I like "feet," but would it be the curves of
We made our way behind the grand homes your boots instead?
Whose elongated windows stared And here you have more personification
at the climbing waves. in that the windows "stared."
Their yachts would float there in the summertime-
living joyously on the lake of Charlevoix . Maybe you could show the yachts
in such a way that we would see them as "living joyously."
Jennifer wrote: instead of living joyously on the lake of Charlevoix :
their broad, black bows parting the water,
their passengers laughing in sheer delight.

On Jan 6, 2008 9:31 PM, Real Rod Torreson wrote:
Hi Jennifer,
I certainly admire what you're doing here! I'm just so happy about the fact that Mr. Gallert cared so much about you and Hannah that he contacted
me about working with you as writers!

Take care, and I will likely get back to you tomorrow, Jennifer! This is going to be another poem to submit various places!

Sun, 6 Jan 2008 22:20:17 -0500
Jennifer wrote:
Instead of living joyously on the lake of Charlevoix :
their broad, black bows parting the water,
their passengers laughing in sheer delight.

Sun, 6 Jan 2008 19:06:54 -0800 (PST)
Mr. Torreson wrote:
I like the "broad, black bows" line a lot! "Sheer delight" is a cliche', though, so maybe you can think of something else. I kind of like the idea that you have the boats themselves being happy instead of the passengers, as you had it earlier because you have so much interesting personification that I don't think you need the passengers. You have poetry going through your blood, girl! You bring such a passion and superb imagination to your writing. Poetry is lucky to have you, Jennifer. Mr. T.

Jennifer wrote:
thanx so much for the tips. i'll see what i can do

Sun, 6 Jan 2008 19:08:45 -0800 (PST)
Mr. Torrreson wrote:
You're welcome, Jennifer! It's always a pleasure to see your poems and to meet with you on Thursdays too.

Jennifer wrote:
Lake Charlevoix

We walked out to the edge
where the water had created
a rippling wall of ice on the fence.
The jutting boulders, too,
had a shimmering coat of ice on their peaks
The reflection of a sparkling sun
was sprawled onto the waves.
There was no land found
to my right or my left.
We trudged through white walks,
the snow remembering
the slightest curves of our boots.
We made our way behind the grand homes.
Whose elongated windows stared
at the climbing waves.
Their yachts would float there in the summertime-
their broad, black bows parting the water,
each boat proudly casting its shadow onto its brother.

On Jan 6, 2008 10:23 PM , Real Rod Torreson wrote:
Wow! What a line, Jennifer! Did you tell me that you are only in 6th grade?????????? I am so proud to call you one of my poetry students! You're having such success, and it couldn't happen to a nicer girl either!
Mr. Torreson

Sun, 6 Jan 2008 22:38:52 -0500
Jennifer wrote: here's the poem so far(i changed the title):

Lake Charlevoix
We walked out to the edge
where the water had created
a rippling wall of ice on the fence.
The jutting boulders,too,
had a shimmering coat of ice on their peaks
The reflection of a sparkling sun
was sprawled onto the waves.
There was no land found
to my right or my left.
We trudged through white walks,
the snow remembering
the slightest curves of our boots.
We made our way behind the grand homes.
Whose elongated windows stared
at the climbing waves.
Their yachts would float there in the summertime-
their broad, black bows parting the water,
each boat proudly casting its shadow onto its brother.

Jennifer wrote:
Thanks so much!

Sun, 6 Jan 2008 19:38:58 -0800 (PST)
Mr. Torreson wrote:
Jennifer,
I'm going to leave the house now, but I will get back to you, likely tomorrow. Again, what a fabulous job. I can't believe how much magic you can make!
Mr. Torreson

Sun, 6 Jan 2008 19:42:52 -0800 (PST)
Mr. Torreson wrote:
Put a comma after "grand homes." Of course, you'll need a lower case letter to begin the next line. The poem is mostly finished. It's come a long way in one night.


Works by Jennifer Kurth

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