Tuesday, May 22, 2007

News Times Features Fairfield County Poetry Winner

Writing 'The Greatest Act'

Brookfield teen receives state award for poem

By Eileen FitzGerald
May 22, 2007

The magazine photos of high-cheekboned, airbrushed models may be beautiful. They are just not real.

"It's everywhere, those images that you're supposed to look like or expected to look like," said Brianna Halek of Brookfield, a 17-year old junior in the Brookfield Alternative Program.

It was the thoughts of those lies that inspired Halek, a budding poet and songwriter, to write a poem called "The Greatest Act," which was selected as the best Fairfield County entry in the 10th annual writing contest of the IMPAC-Connecticut State University Program.

Halek received $1,000 and June 1 she'll be among the top prose and poetry winners from the eight counties in the state at the Litchfield Inn, where there will be an awards dinner and the two state champions will be announced.

The two winners, along with one parent each, will receive a week-long, all-expense-paid trip to Ireland to attend the Dublin Writers' Festival, where the 100,000 Euro International IMPAC-Literary Award will be handed out.

Halek, who's attended the small alternative program for three years, wrote the winning poem for herself but was encouraged to submit it to the competition.

"It feels good. I know more people than my friends, and family and teachers like what I write,'' she said. "It boosts my confidence a little bit."

IMPAC (Improved Management Profitability and Control) chairman Jim Irwin started the contest in Litchfield County in 1997 and expanded it to the whole state through a collaboration with the Connecticut State University Program.

IMPAC is an international productivity enhancement firm, based in Florida, with a Litchfield office.

"Our only job is to affirm young writers. We like to give them a boost," said Andy Thibault, chair of the Young Writers Trust.

Kathleen Riedel, a student at Pomperaug High School in Southbury, and a Middlebury resident, won New Haven county's prose competition with her story, "The Flame."

Among the 12 finalists in each of the two categories in each county included New Milford High School student Karissa Raymond, a poetry finalist for Litchfield County.

Among the Fairfield County finalists were Sherman School eighth-grader Allison Mandeville for poetry, Immaculate High School student Kaleigh Finn for prose, and two poetry and two prose finalists from Danbury's alternative high school, called the Alternative Center of Excellence.

Halek said when she writes it's like "self-therapy."

"You get stuff out and it can help other people. It can help people get connected."

Halek said she's in the program for a reason but it doesn't necessarily have to do with why she writes.

"Maybe it's like some people who go to the alternative high schools don't succeed in school but they have a more creative side to them and they can do that even if they can't do well in math and science,'' Halek said.

Susan Smith, the school's English and social studies teacher, started the program 17 years ago.

"The students who come through this program are very creative in many ways. They think differently. They create and interpret in their own ways," she said.

Four out of five students from Danbury's alternative school were finalists, including 16-year-old senior Ashley Webb, who wrote an essay about her mother called "My Backbone." Classmate Tim Pagan, 17 wrote a short story about a graffiti artist who signed his work as a memorial to his parents and 19-year-old senior Kyle Sturges wrote a poem called "Amish Businessman."

Sophomore Phoebe Ermert, 15, wrote a poem called "The World." She criticized traditional ambitions that keep people in safe environments.

"I'm really happy,'' Ermert said about being a finalist. "I'm proud of it. I feel a lot more accomplished and so does my family."

English teacher Joanne Tolles said she has a building full of stories.

"The things these kids have survived, lived through and felt. Our program is one that tries to help them overcome obstacles to bring them to a point of excellence. If you can help them heal and understand themselves better they can be prepared to move on."

The students credited the school with helping them find their voices.

"I think all of us-we've all been through a lot, had something that impacted us and brought us to the school,'' Webb said. "We've been taught to see things in a different way. To think about our family and friends, to learn about trust and honesty and I think it comes out in our writing."

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