Atkins Students Place First and Second at 2019 Poet Laureate Competition
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By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
APRIL 12, 2019 – Marrianna Flores, who is a junior at Atkins, won the 2019 Poet Laureate competition.
Flores also won last year, making it the first time that a student has won two years in a row.
Atkins Academic & Technology High School put on a strong showing with Atkins sophomore Miyarah placing second.
Mauriah Turner, who is a junior at Reagan High, placed third.
The Poet Laureate competition is sponsored annually by the Forsyth Educator Partnership and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. All the poets perform poems they have written.
This was the 11th annual competition, and 14 students from eight high schools participated. The poems were published in a book called Fresh Voices Rising, which includes art by Winston-Salem/Forsyth County high school students.
As it happened, Flores had performed her poem “I Am Poetry” the week before at the annual Poetry Slam on the campus of Forsyth Technical Community College. There, she placed third.
Asked how she felt about winning the Poet Laureate competition, she said, “Triumphant!”
Atkins teacher Scott Plaster is her coach.
“From the first time I heard her perform, there was just a special kind of spark that you don’t see very often,” Plaster said.
This was the second year that Robertson participated in Poet Laureate.
“It feels pretty nice,” she said of placing second. “I got to convey what I wanted to convey.”
Robertson said she came back this year because it had proven to be wonderful outlet for poets to get together and express themselves. She finds both writing and listening to poetry “universally stimulating.”
“It’s like being taken to another plane,” she said. “Writing is like a form of oxygen for me.”
Turner said that placing third felt “really good!”
She was happy that she was able to say what she wanted to say and that it connected with people.
Her mother, Elonda Watson, said, “I am super proud of her…She inspires me.”
Turner, who is now 16, has been writing poetry since she was 8. So she enjoys telling people she has been writing half her life.
Turner also participated for the first time last year.
“It was really cool,” she said.
Those who organize and support the competition want to provide students with an outlet for their creativity and to give them a chance to express themselves.
“I think it gives the students an opportunity to find their voice in a more creative format than sometimes we can offer in the classroom,” said Melissa Agee the school system’s Program Manager for Secondary Language Arts.
“It takes a lot of courage to write and then share their voices with an audience. I think that is an invaluable experience for them.”
Karel Chandler of the Forsyth Educator Partnership has been one of the organizers of the competition from the beginning.
“I do this because I enjoy it,” Chandler said.
The competition was held in the school system’s Education Building, and, as students, teachers and families arrived, they talked about what brought them there and why they like writing poetry.
Carter High had two participants – senior Corey Hamer and freshman Ashley Bondurant.
Hamer has been writing poetry for a while now and was happy to discover the Poet Laureate competition as a new way to share his work with others.
The name of his poem was “My Mind Is a Pandora’s Box.” Although Pandora’s Box is often thought of as a source of unforeseen troubles, Hamer said, in the context of his poems, he thinks of it more as a box that opens and spills out a cascade of thoughts.
“I have so many thoughts in my brain,” he said.
Although Hamer would certainly like to win, he said, he was also there to meet and connect with other poets.
“I know there is a lot of talent here in Winston-Salem,” he said.
Carver teacher Felecia Piggott-Long spoke highly of both students.
“Corey Hamer loves poetry and the arts,” she said. “He is a dancer and a singer. He has been a shining star for Carver.”
Piggott-Long noted that Bondurant had just finished and posted a book. It is posted on Wattpad, an online community that enables writers to share their creations.
“She is constantly writing,” she said. “That is something she really loves and she shares it with students around the world.”
As it happens, Bondurant said, the idea for the poem she would be performing – “Prophecy of The Kingdoms” came to her while she was in the midst of writing the book.
A central figure in her poem is an owl. Wolves are her favorite animals but she thought an owl would make a more fitting character for her poem. She wants to become an animal behaviorist one day and plans to keep writing books along the way.
Bella Strause is senior at Kennedy. She already knew about the Poet Laureate competition. While she really likes to write poetry, she finds performing it nerve-wracking. So she had not participated before.
Now that she is a senior, though, she said to herself, “Why not?”
It was a big week for Strause. Next year, she will be going to the University of North Carolina at Asheville, and, the next morning, she was heading there for a day celebrating students who will be going there.
Her father, Henry Strause, was one of a number of parents on hand.
“She is energetic – full of joy – one of the smartest people I know,” he said.
Henry Slater is a junior at Reagan. He started writing poetry about a year ago and found that it’s something people can connect to.
“I think it’s really cool,” he said. “I like writing about everything, really.”
His poem “Phantasms of the Mind” grew out his experience helping a friend who was going through some troubling times.
“It was a couple of really rough months,” Slater said.
Winning was not on his list of goals for the night.
“I just want to have fun,” he said. “I have never done this before, and I am really looking forward to it.”
When students registered, they were asked to fill out a form that included some fun facts that could be used when they were introduced. Over the course of the evening, the audience learned about pet turtles, the glories of Oreo Milkshakes, and having trouble telling left from right.
The poems were filled with lots of emotion and such memorable lines as “The only thing faster than light is love,” which is how JC Jones of Reynolds closed his poem “Your Light – Your Love.”
Judges were Emily Wilson, Larry Barron, Frankie Perry-Oates. You will find a story at Scott Plaster wrote about Poet Laureate at Atkins.
The poets were:
Ashely Bondurant, Carver
Corey Hamer, Carver
Marrianna Flores, Atkins
Danny Saucedo, Career Center
P’harris Torbit, Kennedy
Talis Colon, Career Center
Bella Strause, Kennedy
Debra Mullis, Middle College
Mauriah Turner, Reagan
Henry Slater, Reagan
Justin “JC” Jones, Reynolds
Jordan McCracken, Reynolds
Jacob Welsh, West
The artists were:
Clayton Oliver, Reynolds
Delaney Black, Atkins
Shannon Martin, Reynolds
Dominic Keider, West
Sommer Stephens, Atkins
Quentin Davis, Atkins
Cora Layher, West
Piper Muller, Reynolds
Megan Crawford, Reynolds
Emily Allar, Reagan
Sierra Croucher, Reynolds
Radihka Patel, West
Madison Nichols, Reagan
Alex Widener, Atkins
Lily Herr, West
Michelle Viola, Reagan
Isobel Diones, Reagan