We have a young poet among us

Hi everyone,

I’m happy to announce that we have a student poet posted for the Word of the Month Poetry Challenge. Please go to Young Poet W.O.M. Poems to meet Justin Farlee, a 3rd grade student at Cheyenne-Eagle Butte Upper Elementary School in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, and enjoy his poem. His home school teacher, Joan Upell, posted Justin’s poem and I’m grateful to her. Although we have a grand old tradition of introducing young poets on this site, Justin is the first to appear here in a long time. I believe that last student poets were posted by Ken Slesarik, our friend in Phoenix, Arizona. Joan has also posted previous student poems from her 8th grade ELA students.

I’m reminded of two girls who posted their poems eleven years ago in April, 2009, Rachel Ryan Heinrichs and Taylor McGowan. They are young women now and I still hear from them when they can snatch a few minutes from their busy lives. Taylor’s last note, a few months ago, relates how excited she is to be a student at Emerson College, where she won a $20,000 merit scholarship. She told me, “I will never, ever forget it (the first poem she posted here) —or the other poems I wrote for your W.O.M contests. I may not recall the precise words of the poems themselves, but I will always remember the process: the thrill of putting pen to paper, then fingers to keyboard; the excitement of posting; the joy of seeing people’s reactions to my work.” Taylor is majoring in Writing, Literature, and Publishing and hopes to become an editor of YA books.

I’ve been hoping to see some student poems posted now that we have millions of children working from home these days and teachers everywhere working hard to keep them involved and learning. Let’s hope that Joan Upell’s example will encourage others to follow by sharing poems by their kids for us all to enjoy and offer our encouragement. You never know when a few words of support will help change a young life.

Six years later . . .

Hi everyone,

Some of you may remember Rachel Heinrichs. Not long after I started Word of the Month Poetry Challenge, she began posting her poems. At about the same time another girl, Taylor McGowan, began to post hers. They were ten years old and loved to write. One month we held a vote for Young Poet of the Month and the girls drew votes from seven countries. At that time it was the most visits I’d ever had to my blog.
Ryan Heinrichs
Six years later. I haven’t heard from Taylor for a long time but Rachel and I have kept in touch. Her mother Michele drove her to New Jersey so we could meet when I was speaking there and also brought her to one of my poetry workshops at Honesdale for lunch.

Today Rachel has found her core as Ryan. I call him Agent R and we both acknowledge the distinction. Ryan is sixteen now (can this be??), making good grades, taking online courses, and looking at colleges that can offer a dual major in education and Spanish. And Ryan still writes! He just shared this poem with me and I asked permission to share it with you. Ryan’s teachers are impressed and so am I.

I admire Michele Heinrichs for always being there for both of her daughters. And I love Rachel, now Ryan for sharing his journey with me.

This poem was a class project. Ryan is going through a poetry unit in English class. “I had to read a poem, and then use the first two lines of it to write my own poem. The requirements were to use those two lines to begin and end my poem. Here’s what I came up with.”

Sadness Is Not A Disease
by Ryan Heinrichs

When I get to be a composer
I’m gonna write me some music about
How sadness is not a disease
It is not something you can say,
“I have sadness,”
Because people will shake their head
And simply turn away.

When I get to be a composer
I’m gonna write me some stories about
The children who tried to tell
But got a pat on the shoulder
And the sentence,
“It’s a part of life.”
What a strong verbal knife.

When I get to be a composer,
I’m gonna write me some questions about
Why it’s okay for someone
To be depressed
Or anxious
Or angry
Without reason
But if someone’s sad without reason
It’s treason

Against the people
With a “real” diagnosis?

When I get to be a composer,
I’m gonna tell me some people about
What the real disease is
Because it isn’t depression
Or anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s
Nor schizophrenia.
The real disease here
Is how people without a label are treated
Almost as if to say,
“Your feelings are invalid
Until a doctor rubberstamps your forehead.”
And that is the only disease here.
It is ignorance.

So when I get to be a composer,
I’m gonna write me some music about
How sadness isn’t a disease
It may destroy lives
And friendships
And hopes and dreams
But not with me,
No, not with me.
Because I have overcome
What it really is.

Sadness is an everlasting, unavoidable,
Don’t-want-to-cry-but-have-to
Emotion.