Poetry flourishes among Carmel teens thanks to opportunities and mentors

BY SOPHIA BURAGLIO

“helplessness / because what better to remind an invincible teenager of their own mortality / than assigning homework one last time / and walking out of their life forever? / helplessness / because it wasn’t supposed to happen like this / it wasn’t supposed to end like this”

 

Junior Kelly Wong stands at the lectern in a crowded room of the Monterey Public Library, reciting the last lines of her poem honoring beloved Carmel High teacher Whitney Grummon, who passed away in March. Wong is one of 32 local high school students to be selected from a pool of over 440 students from nine schools as winners of the Carl Cherry Center for the Arts’ poetry contest, in conjunction with their high school art exhibition entitled “Thinking Out Loud.”

 

“Poetry by young people is a vital yet largely unrecognized part of our culture,” says Robert Reese, the Cherry Center executive director, who is highly involved with the poetry contest. “The Monterey County High School Poetry Awards participants have given us a unique and encompassing view of our world as seen through the eyes of its youth.”

 

Of the contest winners, 13 were CHS students.

 

For years, Carmel teacher Dale DePalatis has included an emphasis on poetry instruction in his English course curricula. Sophomores taking his English II and English II Honors courses analyze, memorize and write poetry on a regular basis, along with competing in a spring poetry slam.

 

DePalatis began integrating poetry into his curriculum after teaching English classes that focused mainly on literature and essay writing, and found that the essays being turned in were generally bland. One year he introduced a poetry unit, and his students’ overall writing improved as a result.

 

Poetry for the sake of better writing is one factor in DePalatis’ curriculum decisions, but poetry for the sake of poetry is also valued. Many of his students and former students maintain that being asked to write, analyze and recite poems in his class changed their viewpoints on poetry and helped them discover talent they didn’t know they had.

 

Sophomore Emma Crabbe, currently enrolled in DePalatis’ English II Honors course, is one such student. Prior to taking the class, she hadn’t taken an interest in poetry, but has since grown to love it. She enjoys being able to share her observations and thoughts pertaining to the world and people around her, but also maintains that hearing other people’s poetry has opened her own eyes as well.

 

“I like listening to what other people have to say,” Crabbe says. “You learn a lot about what’s going on in people’s lives, and what they’re going through. Everyone has their own different vision and perspective that they write things through.”

 

Senior Marc Del Toro also started seriously writing poetry as a result of taking DePalatis’ class and has continued the practice into his senior year, although he no longer submits any of his work to competitions. He believes that poetry is a valuable tool for helping students find their voices and give them an outlet.

 

“High school is a period where you find yourself, you find the kind of person you are, and poetry helps you,” Del Toro says. “A lot of us have art or music or other ways to express ourselves, but a lot of people don’t. These kids can find a way to express themselves if they don’t have another outlet.”

 

In fact, giving students a chance to learn how to express themselves is a key benefit of DePalatis’ class.

 

“Poetry has something that helps people find their voices,” DePalatis says. “There’s something that happens when you write poetry that connects you with yourself and helps you to know yourself better.”