Student poets take part in PoemCity

It’s finally April. People are walking about downtonwn Montpelier because the long-awaited spring weather is too good to pass the time indoors. They stop in front of a favorite little coffee shop at the street corner before going inside to read the words taped on the window.

Everywhere in town, windows and doors are covered with pieces of poetry, making Montpelier truly a poem city.

Students enrolled in a creative writing course at NU were assigned to write a poem no longer than 20 lines to submit to Montpelier Alive’s National poetry month celebration. The PoemCity tradition in the Vermont state capital is running now in its fourth year, and this year verse from Norwich is part of the event.

Prof. Sean Prentiss discusses poetry with his creative writing class, which  submitted their works to the PoemCity project in the state capital. (Ivy Ceballo Photo)

Prof. Sean Prentiss discusses poetry with his creative writing class, which submitted their works to the PoemCity project in the state capital. (Ivy Ceballo Photo)

“We don’t often get a chance to interact with the school,” said Montpelier Alive executive director, Phayvanh Luekhamhan. Montpelier Alive is a non-profit organization founded to keep the spirit of the downtown community alive with events and activities they host throughout the year.

“When I came to interview for my position, as I was walking around town, I saw poems in all the windows. And being a poet, I loved the idea,” said new assistant professor of English, Sean Prentiss. “Once I got the job here, I knew I wanted to tie us to that.”

Luekhamhan, a writer herself, started as a volunteer for the organization. She wanted to coordinate something that had to do with poetry and heard Rachel Senechal at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in town had the same desire. The two organized the program. It has developed fans at NU.

“Poetry is for everyone,” said Dana DeMartino, a 19-year-old sophomore criminal justice and psychology major from Boyertown, Pa. “You don’t have to be Emily Dickinson to write a poem,” she said.

DeMartino’s poem, “I Stopped Going to Church,” is on display at the Vermont Center for Independent Living on 11 East State St., along with the poems written by her peers. So far, creative writing is the favorite course that she has taken at the university.

“We do a lot of laughing as a group, and write and read some pretty amazing, sometimes incredibly weird, work,” said Baylee Annis, a 20-year-old junior English major from Saranac Lake, N.Y. The students edit each others’ pieces, which allows them get to know one another well, she said.

The class has jumped into welcoming the month of April with their poetry section. “Poetry is a time to tell your story without sitting down and pounding out a memoir, and I love that about poetry,” she said.

When Kristie Sully, 27, a junior psychology major heard about the PoemCity assignment, she worked a little harder than usual on it because it was going to be on display. “I put a whole week into it and it was reviewed by three or four of my peers,” she said.

Sully wrote about falling out of friendship with a best friend: “I threw a lot of emotion into it.” These students have found poetry to be an effective way to express emotion.

“It doesn’t matter so much if you understand the plot of the poem, but more the emotion,” said Caroline Thomas, 20, a junior history major from Cumberland Center, Maine. “If you understand the emotion, you get what it’s about,” she said.

Thomas is excited about the variety of content in the poetry she was able to read from the works of her peers. “One person wrote about a dog he had growing up, another person wrote about a troubled teen,” she said.

“I wrote about horses and oceans. I think people from all ages can use poetry to express themselves,” Thomas said.

“It doesn’t matter what format, what you’re trying to say, it’s your way of expressing it,” Thomas said.

Michael Sjoholm-Sierchio, a 22-year-old senior electrical engineering major from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., used art and language to express his piece. He wrote about Hawaii, relaxing and finding peace there where his parents used to live, and then added a graphic and artistic twist.

Turn Sierchio’s one-page poem sideways, and the text flows like waves of the ocean. He had fun with repetition and trying to think of sounds of waves to work into his poem.

The electrical engineering major has been writing poetry since high school. “I can really take apart what I’m thinking about, what I’m feeling and sort of lay it all out so that I can see it myself and then reassess whatever is going on,” he said.

“So many of our students that are going into the military are studying within STEM (Science Technical Engineering Mathematic) and the military needs that, but what they also need is creativity,” Prentiss said. For many, this class is a change of pace from their usual course load.

“They’re going to be asked to do really difficult things and they’re going to need to reflect and they’re going to need to question themselves, question their decision, question what their actions lead to,” Prentiss said. “They just need to really humanize who they are and I think creative writing really allows that. It allows you to be introspective, be reflective, sympathize, and empathize.”

“I see creative writing at Norwich being really different than at my last University (Grand Valley State University). There it was really important for the art’s sake. Here, I feel like creative writing has much more of a service role. It can bring really important skills to people who might need those skills because of what our country is going to ask of them,” he said.

Civilian student Meghan Papagno, 20, an English and secondary education double major from Wakefield, Mass., aspires to become an English teacher. She feels “it (poetry) is important to celebrate, not the material itself, but the expression of self that poetry promotes.”

PoemCity promotes freedom of expression throughout the community, she said. For NU creative writing classes to catch the wave of expressing themselves through poetry in Montpelier’s PoemCity celebration, it opens up the invitation for others to ride along.

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