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HoCoPoLitSo Recognizes Howard County Students for Literary Achievement

For thirty-five years the HOward COunty POetry and LITerature SOciety (HoCoPoLitSo) has awarded book prizes to the winners of its All County Writing Contest, and recognized students nominated by their teachers for Promise and Achievement in Language Arts. To foster lifelong reading and a love of literature, HoCoPoLitSo presents book awards with personalized bookplates. The tradition continued this year as HoCoPoLitSo board members made presentations at all Howard County public high school senior award assemblies and the Homewood Center.

Books were presented to eleven creative writing winners: Nadine Eloseily (Centennial), Angelina Zater (Howard), and Kasmita Mirani (Glenelg) in the personal essay category; Christian Salazar (Oakland Mills) Ben Yodzis (Hammond), Alexa Marquis (River Hill), Erin Hill (River Hill) and Lawrence Qiu (River Hill) in the short story category; and Xin He (River Hill), Kasmita Mirani (Glenelg) and Kiara Bell (Oakland Mills) in the poetry category. This year’s judges were Sama Bellomo, rehabilitation technologist; Joelle Biele, poet and editor, Patricia Van Amburg, poet and professor, Howard Community College; and Nsikan Akpan, HoCoPoLitSo board member and Former Promise and Achievement in Language Arts Award Winner.

In addition, twenty-four students were chosen by their English Departments to receive HoCoPoLitSo’s Promise and Achievement Award in Language Arts.  The honorees were: Amanda Etcheberrigaray, Connor Gallant (Atholton), Jessie Kwon, Teresa Whittemore (Centennial), Tiffany Nguyen, Zoe Read (Glenelg), Emily Carter, Matthew Sinnott (Hammond), Mia Dubin, Emilee Melton (Homewood Center), Hunter Hensley, Rachel Walter (Howard), Naomi Yang, Theo Yang (Long Reach), Devon Carberry, Grace Yi (Marriotts Ridge), Casey Kindall, Cory Weller (Mt. Hebron), Kiara Bell (Oakland Mills), Joseph Smith, Marya Topina (Reservoir), Alexa Marquis (River Hill), Yazunat Guta, and Sara Shemali, (Wilde Lake).

Thirty-one students in all received books by such outstanding poets and writers as Lucille Clifton, Sandra Beasley, Michael Collier, Billy Collins, Emma Donoghue, Rita Dove, Eamon Grennan, Josephine Hart, Robert Hass, Colum McCann, and Richard Wilbur.  HoCoPoLitSo is dedicated to enlarging the audience for contemporary poetry and literature through public readings, special events, writer-in-residence visits, and The Writing Life, a cable television series produced at Howard Community College, now available on YouTube, for more than 40 years.

Poet Laura Shovan Ignites a Creative Summer School Spark in 4th & 5th Grade Writers

The latest installment in our occasional series of blog posts from friends of HoCoPoLitSo. Today, the multi-talented — poet, blogger, teacher, editor, (the list goes on and on) — Laura Shovan shares with us her experience working with elementary school writers this summer. 

It was my first, and only, time calling into a radio show. Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins was on the air with WYPR’s Dan Rodricks. I often use and recommend Collins’ website Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools for classroom-friendly poems.

I wanted to know: Was there a Poetry 180 for younger students in the works? Collins said “No” and reasoned that elementary school children get enough poetry in their literary diet already.

Perhaps. But that poetry is often limited to work that’s easily digested. Elementary schoolers love Jack Prelutsky, yet are unfamiliar with more complex poets writing for children: Marilyn Singer, Sharon Creech, and Tony Medina. Their curriculum for poetry composition is rarely richer than limericks, haiku of the 5-7-5 variety, and cinquain. That’s why poetry educators, such as those on the Maryland State Arts Council artist-in-residence roster, are such highly valued classroom visitors. We are poetic master chefs. Give us the ingredients of poetry – form, figurative language, and voice – and we’ll turn out a dishy treat even the most reluctant writers will enjoy.

This month, I visited Lisa Johnson’s creative writing class at the Howard County Public School System’s G/T Summer Institutes. Certainly the fourth and fifth graders in a class called “Creative Writing: Ignite the Creative Spark” must like to write or they wouldn’t have been in the class. Still, many of them were unsure about writing poetry. Distaste for poetry often sets in by fifth grade, as evidenced by one student who wrote me this note: “At first, I thought you were going to be BORING!”

TowerAs this was a group of strong writers, I brought a favorite lesson: portrait poems. To begin the workshop, we looked at a photograph of a man holding a baby. Our discussion focused on the facts of the picture. For example, we noted that “The man is wearing a baseball cap”. Once we exhausted the facts of the photograph, we let our imaginations take over. The class told stories about the man and the baby. Were the two of them related? Had the man rescued the baby from an accident? Was this a family reunion?

Next, we read a poem called “Face Poem” written in response to the photograph in question. [The poem and the related photo can be found at The Poem Farm, the online home of children’s poet Amy Ludwig VanDerwater.] We compared the class’s imaginings to the details of the poem. How did “Face Poem” work as a portrait?

After seeing the example, the students were ready to begin the writing process. Ms. Johnson and I had clipped portraits out of newspapers and magazines ahead of time. The children each chose one image to write about. They sat with their writing notebooks and the photographs and created a T-chart. On one side: the facts of the portrait. On the other: Who is this person? What is she doing? What is he thinking? What happens next?

Imagining someone else’s life through a workshop like this stretches young writers. My students often express a depth of empathy that surprises the adults in the room. The tangible details of a photograph are like a list of ingredients. How the children use those ingredients is what gives the resulting poems substance.

Here are three of the students’ responses.

The Newborn

By Aiai C.

A baby cry echoes through the room. The mother
rushes to calm her. The baby was as pale as snow,
her hair as black as the night sky, her lips
as pale pink as peaches. She would resemble
a snow maiden. She thinks she is the only one there,
but her mother is there gently whispering in her ear,
“Little one, little one, go to sleep.” The necklace
on her mother’s neck gently sweeping on her face.
her mind finally relaxes as she drifted off to dream
through the clouds of sleep.

The Hard Working Teacher

By Katelyn M.

The night was warm and bright
No noises filled the night
Her eyes sparkled like the night sky
Her chalkboard filled with white letters like the moon
Her lamp shines on her like the sun shining on the earth
That’s my teacher that teaches me

The Fisher

By Samuel C.

I stand in the lake
with a red shirt,
waiting for a fish to take
the bait on my hook.

I have a backpack
to carry fish back,
but now I just wait.

My family also waits
patiently as can be,
but they also wait
as quietly as a mime.

As soon as I catch a fish
I will go back to them,
I think to myself,
but now I just wait.

My son also waits.
On the land he stands,
as tense as a cricket
waiting for me to catch one.

The he’ll go back
and bring the fish back
for my family to eat.
Suddenly I feel a tug,
so I pull the fish ashore,
and go back to my family,
to eat that big fish.

I finally got back
to my family
at the camp
in the forest
in the depths of Quebec.

— Laura Shovan

On Homewood and Uncloaked Light — Truth Thomas Reflects on Literature, The Homewood Center, and The Legacy Project

Why does literature matter, and why should any person, governmental body, or private sector limb give funding support to reading and writing programs? Invariably, such questions come to haunt the days of all poets and writers from time to time. Whether these queries come from poetry audiences, or from friends around dinner tables; for any writer, they are about as welcome as bedbugs on a honeymoon pillow.

Certainly, HoCoPoLitSo (Howard County Poetry and Literature Society) is not immune to such a biting question in a time when the economic outlook of our days is cloudy. But every now and then literature happens that is so inspirational that it silences all interrogations about its worth. In that context, it gives me great joy to report that HoCoPoLitSo’s All-County Writing Competition represents such an inspirational event. It has come to my attention that eleven students recently won awards in our annual writing extravaganza. Among them is a student I taught in the setting of the Legacy Project Poetry Workshop Series at Homewood High School. My heart is full for all of the students who excelled in the contest, but it is especially full for Homewood and the “Lord.”

Homewood Center is the county’s alternative school, where students are sent if they do not “fit in” to mainstream—regular—Howard County schools. WhHomewoodCenteren Bob Marley sang about “the stone that the builder refused . . . ” he could have been singing about this school. There is a police sub-station-like office at the front of the building (right across from the principal’s office), and that police presence is there for a reason. Many of the students at Homewood are in crisis, whether they are in the midst of difficult life situations or in the grip of battles to overcome profound life traumas. Many of them are there because they have suffered some kind of abuse, through no fault of their own. The staff is heroic, but make no mistake, it is not a Kumbaya-singing, marshmallow-roasting-around-the-campfire kind of place.

A friend and colleague, David Barrett, who is a former chair of HoCoPoLitSo, teaches there. He is, as are all the teachers at Homewood, fully committed to helping young people succeed. Several years ago, he invited me to Homewood to start a poetry workshop series called The Legacy Project. The point of the program, which ran for three years, was to extend avenues of hope to students whose lives were streets of trouble. Toward that end, I exposed the students to poetry—and to the power of their own creative voices—as an esteem-building exercise. Another purpose of Legacy was to teach young people that all people have something of value to offer the world—to leave behind. The program worked. It enriched the lives of many students and my life, as well. In that effort, I was privileged to work with Anne Reis, who is the media specialist at Homewood. Later, when workshop numbers grew, I was equally blessed to engage the assistance of another very talented poet, Alan King, who helped me facilitate the workshop.

It was there, in the creative frame of The Legacy Project, that I first met Lord Magloire. He was in the ninth grade then—and was gifted. His work, although in need of refinement, reflected his great love for books—particularly classic literature. Lord was a poet of promise who wrote of Homer as easily as he did TuPac Shakur. What I recall is that he needed someone to affirm his writing gifts—to push him. That we did, and Lord’s poetry blossomed. He overcame an abundance of his challenges and literature helped him to transform his life. In a poem he composed for the Howard County Library’s Word Up! Competition in 2011 called “The Cool,” Magloire wrote: “I come out of the cool like a slice of / cheesecake . . . I just am . . . through art . . . ”

This year, in HoCoPoLitSo’s annual writing contest, Lord Magloire won third place in HoCoPoLitSo’s poetry contest of all the submissions from all the high schools in Howard County, and was named by his teachers as winning a Promise and Achievement in Language Arts award. When a child is given the gift of self-esteem, it represents a fire that cannot be easily extinguished. In that uncloaked light, literature matters (and organizations that support literary enrichment matter) as instruments of that ignition. Yes, the next time someone asks me about the merit of art over a meal, I’ll just tell them a little bit about HoCoPoLitSo and a lot about the “Lord.”

The full list of creative writing winners is Jennifer Baik, Sarika Reddy, Brianna Richardson and Melanie Zheng (Centennial); Lord Magloire and Justen Williams (Homewood); Darby Dicks, Genevieve Ferris, Elizabeth George, Sarah Owoeye and Jennifer Piegols (Mt. Hebron). The honored judges were: Patricia Van Amburg, poet and professor at Howard Community College; Heidi Vornbrock Roosa, adjunct instructor at Howard Community College; and Sarah Cotner, media  and resource specialist. I extend my affection to all.

Truth Thomas
Board member

Derrick Weston Brown is HoCoPoLitSo’s 2012/13 Writer-In-Residence

Derrick Weston Brown

HoCoPoLitSo is proud to announce that poet Derrick Weston Brown will become its  21st Writer-in-Residence where he will work with students in each of the  Howard County Public School System’s high schools over the course of the year. The program focuses on exposing students to fine arts via poetry and literature.

“We are excited to have Derrick as our writer/poet in residence for the upcoming year,” said Dr. Tara Hart, HoCoPoLitSo Board’s Co-Chair.  “Derrick is another outstanding writer that will bring a new voice and fresh perspective for the students this year.”



Brown is a published author with his first book of poetry, titled Wisdom Teeth, released April 2011. He is a staff member with Teaching for Change, an organization that provides teachers and parents with the tools to transform schools into centers of justice where students learn to read, write and change the world. 

Brown holds an MFA in creative writing, from American University. He graduated from the Cave Canem Summer workshop for black poets and the VONA summer workshop. His work has appeared in the Warpland, Mythium, Ginsoko, DrumVoices, The Columbia Poetry Review literary journals, and the online journals Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Howard University’s Amistad, LocusPoint, and MiPOesias.

HoCoPoLitSo’s Writer-In-Residence program is part of a long-term partnership with the county’s public school system to enlighten students by exposing them to literary arts. Writers such as Sandra Beasley, Marion Winik, and Dr. Michael S. Glaser have visited each of the county’s high schools and the Homewood Center offering workshops and insights to and for student readers and writers.

HoCoPoLitSo Recognizes High School Students for Literary Achievement

Press Release:

For thirty-one (31) years the HOward COunty POetry and LITerature SOciety (HoCoPoLitSo) has awarded book prizes to the winners of its All County Writing Competition, and honored students nominated by their teachers for Promise and Achievement in Language Arts. To foster lifelong reading habits and a love of literature, HoCoPoLitSo presents book awards with personalized bookplates.  The tradition continued this year as HoCoPoLitSo board members made presentations at all Howard County public high school honors assemblies for seniors.

The ten creative writing winners were AMY FARB (Centennial), WEI YUE LU (Centennial), and MARY SIMPSON (Centennial) in the personal essay category; CAROLINE CROWDER (Mt. Hebron), JACLYN ANDREWS (Howard), PATRICIA CARMONA (Mt. Hebron) and BRIDGET MACKRELL (Mt. Hebron) in the poetry category; and in the short story category, REBECCA CURRAN (Mt. Hebron), JULIA DUNN (Howard), and SYDNEY CHANMUGAN (Mt. Hebron).  This year’s judges were Patricia VanAmburg, writer and professor of literature, Joyce Braga, young adult author, and Mark Braga, technical writer and engineer.

In addition, twenty-six students were chosen by their English Departments to receive HoCoPoLitSo’s Promise and Achievement Award in Language Arts.  The honorees were: LAUREN BERMAN, JACOB SMITH (Atholton) SARAH CALVERT, WEI YUE LU (Centennial), EMILY SCHWEICH, ANNELIESE FAUSTINO (Glenelg), SIERRA SIMPSON, JASON SCHOENFELD (Hammond),  SIERRA PETERS,  RACHEL McMURRER (Homewood Center), LINDSEY SABLOWSKI,  MADELINE STUDT (Howard), JESSICA GUERRERO, JUSTIN BIEGEL  (Long Reach), COURTNET O’HARO,  JONATHAN MATHEWS (Marriotts Ridge), NICHOLAS CORTINA, HANNAH VAUGHAN (Mt. Hebron), LYNN COURNOYER, ROSS RHEINGANS-YOO (Oakland Mills), HALEY SWEETON, ALEXANDER SHAW (Reservoir),  IFEOLUWA OLUJOBI, CHRISTINA ROMANO (River Hill), EMMA BOONE, JOE WAN (Wilde Lake).

Thirty-five students in all received books by such outstanding poets and writers as: Margaret Atwood, Sandra Beasley, Hugo Hamilton, Donald Hall, Shelia Kohler, Laura Lippman, Frank McCourt, Grace Paley, Francine Prose, Reynolds Price, and Colm Tóibín.  HoCoPoLitSo has been dedicated to enlarging the audience for contemporary poetry and literature through public readings, special events, writer-in-residence visits, and The Writing Life, a cable television series produced at Howard Community College, since 1974.

HoCoPoLitSo is supported by the Howard County Arts Council through a grant from Howard County government, the Maryland State Arts Council through the State of Maryland and the Department of Business and Economic Development, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Columbia Film Society,  the Columbia Foundation,  the Jim & Patty Rouse Charitable Foundation, the Rouse Company Foundation, and Friends of HoCoPoLitSo.

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