In the middle of the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts stand several rows of chairs. Most of these chairs are occupied, and the room is filled with muffled chatter. The noise evaporates from the room as one man, Kent County Poetry Contest Organizer and well-renowned poet David Cope, steps forward to introduce his winners. One by one they grace the room with their first-rate poetry, each with different styles and ideas.
The ability to make people notice different things is why Jennifer Kurth, first place winner of the elementary division, loves poetry. This is her second consecutive year winning first place. Her poem, "Thinking about my Dad in Heaven" was inspired on a ride in the car while watching the moon. Jennifer, a seventh grader at Our Savior Lutheran School, was thinking about how even though they were driving toward the moon, it was not getting any bigger. She compared this to having her father now disceased, and how even though she could remember him so well, he still isn’t with her, and is not getting any closer to her. Jennifer’s mom is her biggest inspiration. The two feel things similarly, so when Jennifer puts her thoughts into words, she ends up also putting her mother's thoughts and emotions into words as well, without even trying!
Another reader that afternoon was seventh grader Brooke Helder. Weeks earlier, she had screamed when she found out she won second place in the elementary division. She started writing poetry in first grade with “Mr. T.”, Rodney Torreson, Poet Laureate of Grand Rapids, her greatest influence in writing, and began to meet with him at an area restaurant on a weekly basis. The fun loving athlete attends Calvin Christian School. She got the idea for her poem, "Old Men at the Barbershop," from a man at her church who owns a barbershop like the one in the poem.
All the winners in the competition were present to read their poetry that day, including the third place winner in the elementary division, Anna Schlutt, a fourth grader at Immanuel-Saint James Lutheran School, who is one of the youngest winners this contest has ever had. The audience, including the other winners, seemed to really enjoy watching someone so young read her poetry. Her winning poem, “Following the Water,” was inspired by her love for the beach and water. She started writing a year ago and has been following the path of her sister, Patty Schlutt, who Anna considers the most inspirational person to her writing.
“Uncle Joe,” the first place winning poem of the student division, was written by Rachel McGuinness. She wrote this because her Uncle Joe, who she didn’t know very well, recently passed away, and she wanted to give him a tribute. She likes to express things in different ways, which is why she keeps writing poetry. Last year at West Catholic High School, English and science were her favorite subjects. She plans on being an engineering major next year while continuing to pursue her poetry career.
Kimberly Jongsma, a recent graduate of Hope College, started composing songs before she started writing poems, which she began writing in early high school. This year, her poem, “The dust blows around its bowl,” won second place in the student division of the contest. The poem is a reflection of the work of Flannery O’Connor, which Kim had been reading a lot. She likes poetry because of the freedom of expression it gives her. Though she would like to write for herself, she tends to write her poetry more for others. After she finishes reading her tornado-shaped poem, gasps and applause resonate throughout the room.
The last of student readers is Jessica Palmer, the third-place winner. She began to write poetry--her way of expressing herself-- when she was thirteen. Her writing often follows the path of the various changes in her life. This is true of her winning poem, “Warm Hands,” which was inspired by a childhood memory of her father. Jessica attended GRCC last year and was an editor at Grand Rapids Community College's Display Magazine.
After the reading ends, the room slowly fills with chatter again--this time with winners, family, and friends. But as those in attendance climb into their cars, they probably could not help but ponder the excellent poetry they witnessed.
By Amy & Hannah Fleming