Wednesday, June 03, 2009

METAPHORS BE WITH YOU - 2 Speeches, 2 Music Videos: Young Writers Bash @ Mark Twain House

FROM WARMUP TO ENCORE -- The Jen Allen Big Band warms up with series of tunes: Blue Skies [Tamara Almai], Say A Little Prayer and Respect. Their performance generated audience demand for an encore of those three songs, and they graciously complied to thunderous applause. L-R: Geoff Brookes, Peter McEachern, Stephen Brookes, Kris Allen, DominiQue Rivers, Ben Bilello, Chris DeAngelis, Katelyn Lewis, Keith Gibson, Shannon Gunnip [Jen Allen on keyboard behind Shannon Gunnip] and Tamara Almai.

-- Twain House Photos
for the Connecticut Young Writers Trust

May 31, 2009
Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford, CT
IMPAC-CSU System Young Writers 12th Annual Celebration

Blue Skies,

The Jen Allen Big Band

  • YouTube Video By Meg Rivers

  • Personnel:
    JEN ALLEN, keyboard
    KRIS ALLEN, alto sax
    STEPHEN BROOKES, tenor sax
    GEOFF BROOKES, trumpet
    KEITH GIBSON, guitar
    BEN BILELLO, drums
    PETER McEACHERN, trombone
    VOCALIST: Tamara Almai

    Hosts Scott Haney and Kara Sundlum and Connecticut Young Writers Trust keynote speakers Melanie Lieberman and Victoria Nordlund are pleased with the results of their strategy session after the show Friday morning.
    -- Photo by friendly audience volunteer on i-phone

  • Video Of The Segment

  • Keynote Address* By Victoria Nordlund,
    Chair, English Dept., Rockville High School

    * As in any prepared text,
    there are departures and blanks are filled in ...


    Let me tell you a story it's really very short.

    It happened in the library about 10 o'clock.

    …And so a poet was born! Distraught over losing my library book, I penned my first poetic lines in the sixth grade. It was a traumatic moment in my young life that I felt compelled to record. I showed my masterpiece to everyone -Mom, Dad, teacher, librarian - Anyone who would listen to my poem. Even though I had written the poem
    for myself, I felt overjoyed that people liked to hear my voice. Throughout my life, poetry has given me a wealth of wonderful memories, a record of my dreams, control of my thoughts, and most importantly, confidence in myself.

    Confidence - boy did I need that in the seventh grade. My family had moved me to Connecticut and I felt lost. I was teased, ridiculed and harassed in junior high and writing helped me escape. Newly found hormones had turned five innocuous little boys into five demonic entities obsessed with tormenting the new girl. I exorcised some of my fears, pain, and insecurities each night by drawing into my own safe world. One poem stands out in my memory:

    The Tide

    Footprints in the soft sand - memories with them

    Are quickly washed away by the oncoming tide

    The tide is beautiful in that it cannot be defined

    It comes and goes taking the past with it

    At that time I felt as if my old life had disappeared from under my feet. I was proud of this poem so I gathered together some courage and showed it to my English teacher. He published the poem in the school's literary magazine. For a moment, I felt important; until I heard someone shout, "The tide, hey, isn't that a detergent?" My pride was quickly washed away.

    Although junior high was filled with painful memories, high school was filled with pleasant experiences. Unfortunately, those pleasant feelings did not extend to my
    four English teachers, for I received no guidance or inspiration from any of them. I can remember writing a succession of horrendous poems spawned from an English teacher who demanded a poem a night. This assembly line approach produced strained, unbearable poetry. My poems possessed fire and withering roses unable to quench their hatred. This 'inferno' of intense feeling was neatly packaged with a perfect rhyme scheme and a brilliantly executed meter. Later in the year, I discovered that my teacher wanted poems for his literary magazine. He found a few that suited him, threw the rest away, and provided no feedback. Although my heart did not find its way into any of these assignments, it was beating in my private poetry; where I would be free of meter and rhyme and form. I recorded infatuations, romance, pain, and rejection. I wrote poetry anytime I wanted to spill my emotions on to the page. It felt good to be creative; it felt good to be myself.

    I lost sight of writing and English for a few years but when I found poetry again I produced a lot of material that really did not sound like my voice.

    My idols: Sylvia Plath, John Berryman, and Robert Lowell. These were poets who confessed their intense pain on the page for all to see. Consequently, I was depressed because I wasn't depressed.

    How could I be a good poet? I led a boring, predictable life!

    Nevertheless, I tried my hand at the dramatic and created pieces that were not quite me.

    this poem illustrates my futile attempt:

    And the space

    Is getting narrow

    And the walls

    Are closing in

    And my life can't

    Get much smaller

    Than the coffin

    That I'm in

    And the watch

    Is moving slower

    And my heart

    Beats getting old

    And every story

    And every story

    And every story

    has been told

    and the lid

    Is nailed forever

    And my future's

    Cast in stone.

    I actually made the poem in shape of a coffin…and I was pretty impressed with myself!

    Death, destruction, and despair were common topics I chose, for I thought that was what true poetry was all about . After hearing other writer's voices in my writing, I started to miss my own. Turning back to my own emotions, I realized that I had experiences that were important to write about.. As I look back on my college work, a flood of memories pours from them. Photographs and videos only capture the surface; I have a record of what I was thinking .

    Although my poetry was very personal, I began to work up the confidence to expose myself to others. I felt so powerful when I wrote my poetry, yet so vulnerable when I shared it. After letting a few close friends read my work, I typed a few of my poems and made an appointment with a poet in residence. Advice, reinforcement, praise, drew me to his office door. Once seated, a strange, unfamiliar person haphazardly thumbed through my work in front of me. I will never forget him pointing to the line "Taste your mediocrity in my splendor" and declaring that this was the only line he really liked. Only later was I hit with the irony of that statement. Fortunately, he did say I had potential and encouraged me to keep writing.

    Today, writing still gives me great pleasure. My children, Nick, Kyra, and Alex have given me endless inspiration. I have documented their milestones with words and they are just as important as the photos I have taken throughout the years. This poem, I wrote for my daughter after she was christened.


    Her autumn-orange hair glows in the whiteness
    Of the flowing lace gown. She
    Waits impatiently for her milk as the drops
    Of the Jordan fall upon her brow.

    Clutching her mother-her lifeboat, she
    Quietly eyes the holy man
    And quickly buries herself in the safe bow.

    Now, staring into your calmness,
    The ritual's words wash over me...
    "No one can enter the kingdom of God
    unless she is born of water and the Spirit.
    Let us welcome this un-freckled child,
    She is ready.

    My Waterhouse maiden
    My little Chi,
    You will wear the veil of womanhood
    Yielding and pulling the world to you.

    Hopefully, my children will get a different understanding of their childhood through my voice. I know they have taught me a lot. I love honoring my family in my poetry. It has been a record of my happiness and an outlet for grief. Reading a poem at my grandmother's grave was one of the hardest things I have had to do. But knowing that it strengthened my family, gave me the courage to read with a clear, strong voice.

    Sharing my love for writing with my students also gives me great happiness. I am sensitive to their needs and I let them have ownership over their creations. I have a major rule in my creative writing classes: My students know from day one they will never be forced to share a poem in front of the large group. Every year , it is wonderful to watch even the most reluctant writer take the plunge. We have a read- a -round in which students are required to write warm fuzzy notes of praise to each reader. One particular reticent writer confided to me that she saves those notes in her memory box and revisits them when her spirit needs a lift. It is wonderful to see students like her begin to realize that you need your voice to resonate. I wish that I had had a supportive audience when I was that shy 7th grader who needed encouragement. It is an honor to see my students develop into strong, confident writers. I can not think of a better profession. I have the privilege of hearing beautiful voices each singing their own distinctive song.

    Tonight we celebrate 16 talented writers who are so lucky to have discovered their voices so early in their career. My advice to you would be to stay true to who you are as a writer. Enjoy your gift and let it enrich your lives and the lives of others. Don't be afraid to sing loudly even if you are a little off key or you don't have all the words. And… never let your voiced be silenced.

    I would like to end tonight with two poems. The first celebrates my eight year old self that wrote about my missing library book.. It is called


    I remember when Mary Poppins was the funniest movie ever.
    On Tuesdays I'd wrap myself in Grandma's patchwork afghan
    And watch Three's Company on my brother's
    Black and white TV.
    The laughter used to burst from me
    Like Jiffy-Pop.

    In a pink-canopied room, my blood sisters and I
    played endlessly with glitter-filled super balls, Silly Putty and Uno.
    Singing Grease tunes over and over and…
    I was Olivia Newton John.
    (God, I wanted those black spandex pants.)

    Dressed in dance recital finery,
    Roller skates and waist length braids,
    I sold Kool-aid, clam shells, and Mad Magazines
    At my curb-side store.

    I remember Slip-n-Slide and water fights that soaked our street,
    Despite the July heat.
    Blissful hours riding my bike
    Down smooth sidewalks.
    Content with Flavor-Ice, Pez, and orange soda.

    I remember staring at the sky and believing I could walk on clouds.
    I remember Ghost in the Graveyard played in a perfect dusk.
    Giggling in the summer darkness,
    We filled jelly jars with fireflies and set them free

    My last poem reflects on the writer, and the person I am today,

    It is called …


    Barefoot and pale-legged, I take in
    The May-green leaves and azaleas
    That have emerged without me.
    A geranium bursts with white pompoms.
    The marigolds pop in the yard island.
    And the bearded irises pierce the fresh mulch
    With infant spikes.

    My baby giggles in his jog stroller
    As his siblings reenact Treasure Island.
    Tapping their baseball bat legs,
    They wield plastic shovels,
    And search for gold.

    Who needs Walden Pond?
    I wade in my own mystical muck
    And sit translucent in my plastic lawn chair.
    Fully present and aware
    of this delicate brilliance
    Fluttering past.

    Thank you! I look forward to hearing all of your voices in the future.

    Say A Little Prayer
    DominiQue Rivers
    Tamara Almai, Shannon Gunnip, Katelyn Lewis
    The Jen Allen Big Band

  • YouTube Video By Meg Rivers

  • Personnel:
    JEN ALLEN, keyboard
    KRIS ALLEN, alto sax
    STEPHEN BROOKES, tenor sax
    GEOFF BROOKES, trumpet
    KEITH GIBSON, guitar
    BEN BILELLO, drums
    PETER McEACHERN, trombone
    VOCALISTS: DominiQue Rivers,
    Tamara Almai, Shannon Gunnip, Katelyn Lewis


    Keynote Speaker Melanie Lieberman, 18, the Rockville High School Senior & 2007 State Prose Champion

    Concluding Keynote Address By Melanie Lieberman

    "Alden Sutter was a Florida transplant, and that automatically made him desirable property. He had brown hair, brown eyes, and sun-browned skin. His appearance reminded me of poop. He was, of course, a hazard to my health, being as all guys were contaminated with cooties. "

    Two years ago, these words helped me to get exactly where sixteen of you are today. I was nervous, excited, and I couldn't help but wonder how the word "poop" had gotten me so far.

    Becoming the 2007 IMPAC State Prose Champion opened huge airplane hangar doors into my future. I have met so many brilliant, talented, and wonderful people through this program. That is what IMPAC truly is- a clear, open doorway into a world of literature, diversity, and appreciation for the written word. IMPAC is about creating opportunity for aspiring writers and rewarding some of the finest youth and professional literature in the world. IMPAC is far more than just a bullet on your résumé.

    When I first submitted my short story "Mashed Potato Boy and my 5th Grade Romance," I did so simply because I loved the story. I thought that it might get a smile or two, maybe even a chuckle. As I progressed from a County Semi-Finalist, to a Finalist, to a Champion, I became increasingly grateful that the story I had written was one I truly enjoyed. It would have certainly been miserable to have to support something I had written just because I wanted to be a writer.

    Always write what you love. Whether its something you know, or something you want to know more about, there are no restrictions in the world of creativity. As long as you are writing for you, the words will come exactly as they should- Beautifully.
    In the following poem, I write about things I know, (my grandfather,) and things I don't quite understand, (old age and war.)


    he's been flying cars in his frozen stopwatch sky
    brakes with a throttle that's stuck
    like a cuckoo bird jammed in the doorway of a clock.

    he sits in the passengers seat of a fully equipped 2007 ford focus
    but all he sees are air pressure controls
    and wing tips in my side view mirror.

    all around him he still thinks it's war
    fought while flying over his acres of evergreen
    frost tipped and blue like electroshocks through the skin.

    it's my first driving lesson, but I'm not learning to fly
    trying to navigate the suburbs is harder
    when your co-pilot thinks you're dodging artillery shells.

    at the top of a hill he urges me to let off the gas - and the break,
    to shift into a lower gear,
    so I can coast my cargo jet to a stop on the runway.

    there's no use insisting
    that cars don't work the same way as jets
    or old minds the same as young
    that brakes are there to stop just short
    of coasting off the edge of a flat sky.

    Through my experiences in Dublin and those with the amazing people who work so closely with IMPAC, I have been able to catch a glimpse of what the future can hold.

    Many of you may wonder what coming this far will get you. In such a competitive field, there is no arguing that every opportunity to get an edge is vital. No one can promise anything, but I can share with you a look at what IMPAC has done for me.

    The physical prizes awarded by this incredible program are undeniably amazing. Looking back after two years, however, I realize that the people I have met, the connections made, and the opportunities presented have kept the benefits of this competition revealing themselves in the most remarkable ways. So many of the talented people in this room I met for the first time because of where I sat two years ago. I have been truly impacted by the outcome of this competition.

    "Winning IMPAC had not only helped me to experience diversity on this level, but was also an incredible step forward for my writing. It has been my passion since I was a young girl, and my dream has congruously always been to be a writer. Seeing Per Petterson win the International IMPAC literary prize for his novel helped me to envision a possible future for myself. Although my own future does not necessarily have to include a €100,000 prize, it does include writing. I am certain of the path that I wish to take, and winning this contest was the first step in validating that I am not only prepared, but also capable. "

    That was an excerpt from my primary college essay. It never ceases to amaze me that a contest I won two years ago has continued to fuel my future.

    Parents, this means something for you, too. This means that you have raised amazing talent and potential. You might not understand, or even like, what your son or daughter writes. My parents don't always get my writing. But that's the beautiful thing. We are all affected by the same factors in remarkably different ways. Always support your child, whether they continue in writing or find that neuroscience is their true calling. Always provide them with support and encouragement - even if you don't quite understand what it is they are doing.

    The nature of competition is a concern that bruises the image of every contest. Some people regard writing contests and art competitions differently than a sporting event or chess match. Yet the difference is only superficial. Contests like IMPAC exist to generate support for the arts and to create avenues of development and validation for amateur writers. IMPAC is about connecting Connecticut writers and encouraging us all to continue seeking all the opportunities out there. The National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, for example, allows national award winners to read their work at Bryant Park in NY, and exhibits all medalling artwork in a beautiful exhibition. The Drexel National Playwriting Competition critiques its winning plays and provides in depth feedback and advice to budding playwrights.

    Even in rejection, however, come similar rewards…think thick skin, for example. For every contest I've won I can assure you I've been rejected twice as many times. Mashed Potato Boy, the same story that has done so much for me, has not won every contest it's entered. Yet rejection helps to push young writers to work on their craft, to fight for a title if they desire it. There may be some contests that you never win. That only means that you and the judges are traveling on different wavelengths, and that the competition was tough. An easy win does not provide the same feelings of accomplishment. Art is a subjective, evolving media. Just because one person doesn't reward or understand it, doesn't mean it isn't a successful work. I encourage you all to continue submitting your work. Most importantly, winning a contest should not be your only source of validation. You should love every piece you create, and that self-validation will carry you through every rejection.

    I have grown up a lot since June 1st, 2007. My writing has grown with me. My last story wasn't about poop, or mashed potatoes, or applesauce. There were no childhood chants of,

    "Circle, circle, dot, dot, now you've got a cootie shot," in my latest poem.

    I admit, episodes of "flirting shamelessly over ham and cheese on rye," and "sinking my teeth into a Boca burger," have made boisterous appearances in some of my more recent works. Nonetheless, I am committed to my philosophy that if you enjoyed writing it, someone out there in that sea of minds will enjoy reading it.

    Mashed Potato Boy is not typical of my writing. It is light and humorous and intentionally juvenile. Since winning IMPAC, I have been committed to exploring every genre of creative writing. Yet I always want to live up to Mashed Potato Boy. Winning IMPAC as a sophomore was a huge sigh of "What do I do next?" Even becoming a finalist felt like the pinnacle of writing contests. And the next step is to continue developing. I have written plays, non-fiction, and poetry. There is not a whole lot in any of those about Fifth Grade Romances. They tend mostly to be about the things that I don't fully understand.

    As I prepare to graduate, I see almost all of my high school education as being defined by my endeavors in writing. I spend summers at writing conferences and in bookstores. I write fervently so as to not waste a single moment without putting it on paper.

    My yearly calendars have been scheduled, not around exams and assignments, but around writing contest deadlines and time blocked out for finishing Mrs. Nordlund's next creative writing assignment. I spend weekends at poetry readings and trying to complete my "50 Books To Read Before I Go To College" list.

    Next year, I will be attending Emerson College in Boston to study Writing, Literature, and Publishing. IMPAC has already helped to connect me with Emerson's renowned faculty. The feelings of anxiousness and complete overwhelming excitement I feel when I try to imagine myself next year are almost identical to those emotions I felt as I tried to imagine myself as the next IMPAC Prose Champion.

    "What did the poet say to Luke Skywalker?

    Metaphors be with you."

    My boyfriend insists that adding this will help ease any of that anxiety. Hope it helped.

    This evening, two very talented young writers will be awarded the prestige of being the 2009 IMPAC State Prose and Poetry Champions. For those of you who do not receive this award, don't be discouraged. I am about to say the oldest cliché in the book but don't ignore it - winning is not everything. Especially in a writer's world, where our art is judged by the subjectively critical masses.

    We are a strange bunch. We do not view the world in the same way as others. Our looking glass is different from that of the engineers, the sculptors, the mathematicians, and the athletes. When we write, we look at the world as billions of words strung together to build our landscapes and interactions. We exist as syllables, always changing and reforming. Never ignore or deny what you possess. Even if you don't envision yourself as a writer, you are. It doesn't have to be your profession, but don't suppress it. Embrace your own unique brand of writing. Continue writing regardless of tonight's outcome. Continue viewing the world through this crooked, sometimes foggy, never predictable looking glass.

    Finalists, the talent that you possess is undeniable. No matter what the outcome of this evening may be, this prestigious validation of your work is something that is beyond quantitative value. Even if you don't dream of bookbindings in your future, language and communication are fundamental pillars of humanity. The ability you have to harness that will help carry you to wherever your dreams may reside.

    I would like to conclude with a poem I wrote that, in part, got me into Emerson College. It assures me now, more than ever, that words are one of the most powerful and beautiful forces in existence.


    becoming isn't instantaneous
    like dropping a tea bag into too hot water,
    or resting your lips impatiently on the rim,
    feeling the steam seep between your teeth
    onto your tongue
    and down your throat,
    settling heavy in your lungs,

    if my life was a story, I'm not sure if anyone would read it,
    but I'd like to think that somewhere,
    somebody is drinking a cup of tea
    and settling into the thick folds of a leather sofa
    dragging the tea bag around the bottom of the mug,
    smearing spiced watercolors across their ceramic canvas

    and waiting for someone
    to write the life
    of everything they were feeling
    and all they were
    to let it steep
    through expectant fingertips

    to abstract-
    syllables and thoughts crammed into one
    aromatic mass
    compose all the histories, memories, futures
    into something palatable
    there is still
    so much flavor to be unearthed
    but one day all might fall into standing
    coat the tongue and the fingertips
    and satiate thirst.

    Congratulations, and I wish you all the best of luck.

  • Waterbury Paper Cites State Poetry Champion Felicity Sheehy
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