Raw Emotion From the Heart: Paterson’s Next Generation of Poets
Thursday, June 21, 2012 • 2:25am
PATERSON, NJ - In the center of the stage, a slender young girl towered above the crowd on tall narrow heels, her thin shoulders trembling with pain and determination.
“What if I could turn back time and leave all of my sorrow and heartache behind?’’ she said. “I would go back to that tragic accident and cushion the road for you.”
Her voice faltered, lost in tearful memory. Moments passed before the Mistress of Ceremonies, Susan Amsterdam, who is also the Coordinator of the Theater and Poetry Project, came to put a comforting hand on the girl’s arm and another on the microphone.
“This is raw emotion, poetry comes from the heart,” Amsterdam said.
So it was, with the crowd’s encouragement, high school Senior, Denis Gondres read the remainder of her poem, “What If.”
And when she finished, it was clear that the legacy of Allen Ginsburg continues in Paterson. With his epic poem, Howl, it was said that the Paterson native, “took poetry out of academia and brought it to the people on the streets.” Some 55 years later, the streets of Paterson still echo that triumphant love for language in the voices of its children.
Which is why, on June 12, despite heavy rains, and an early evening of dark clouds, more than 200 people crowded into the auditorium of Passaic County Community College - to bear witness to Paterson’s next generation of poets.
The event was billed as the 20th Annual Paterson Student Poetry Contest and a celebration of the recent publication of “The Paterson Mosaic, Poems by the Young People of Paterson.” It was sponsored by Theatre and Poetry Project (“TAPP”) in cooperation with Passaic Community College’s Poetry Center and Paterson Public Schools.
The evening began with remarks from various contributors to the program. In her opening remarks, Amsterdam informed the crowd of family members and children that “there were so many poems submitted you can figure you’re pretty talented to get here tonight.”
Passaic Community College President Rose also took the stage for a few moments to say, “every one of you, you are now published authors.”
In all there were nine first-prize and twelve second-prize winners, from the first through twelfth grades. The winners all took turns reading their poems to a sea of flashbulbs and beaming faces, while the other award recipients sat in rows of chairs, also on stage, respectfully listening. First prize winners were awarded $50 and second prize winners were awarded $25. Honorable Mention winners received certificates.
Before the children took center stage to read their poems, Cynthia Forster, Community and Public Relations Manager of The Record offered a few words of encouragement, “Your love of language will lead you to many wonderful places. Poetry helps you to connect with your feelings and with other people.”
According to a press release provided by TAPP, they offered the poetry writing workshops in Paterson schools during the school year. “Workshop leaders inspired the students and guided them in expressing themselves through poetry,” said Amsterdam.
She added, “The contest is the culmination of the workshops, and it was made possible by the principals and teachers who encouraged their students to participate as well as through the generous support of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts / Department of State, and Passaic County Community College.
After the last award was handed out the children lit off the stage, breaking an hour long silence to congratulate one another and rejoin proud family members. First grader, Jamyjah Wilson, whose winning poem, “The Best Part of My Day” about suppertime, explained that she was inspired by her kindergarten teacher, Ms. Camacho.
Ms. Camacho, who was present for the award ceremony said, “I think this is fabulous. The kids in Paterson deserve to be recognized for their accomplishments.”