Ten students won first place in their respective divisions in this year's Star Poets competition. In the front row from left are Erin Swift, a sixth-grader at Seabury Hall on Maui; Robert Landgraf, Kamehameha Schools, third grade; Rosalyn Peralta, Fern School, fourth grade; and Pia Grace Baldovi, Moanalua High School, sophomore. In the back row from left are Lance Sugiyama, Moanalua High School, junior; Nathan Pablo, Punahou School, seventh grade; Nawa Lanzilotti, Punahou School, eighth grade; Misty Oka, Iolani School, freshman; and Matt Cadaoas, a senior at Keaau High School on the Big Island. Not pictured is Fern School fifth-grader Emily Day.

Poetry contest nurtures
isle students’ creativity

10th-grade winner: "The First Approach"

While people tend to fixate on test scores, a more creative approach to learning is resonating with Hawaii students. The language is lean, the images powerful, glimpses of growing up, of warmth and loss.

A poetry contest that started quietly four years ago attracted more than 2,800 entries this year statewide, twice as many as last year, from students in grades 3 through 12 at public and private schools.

"With cutbacks in education, it seems like the creative things tend to be the first to go," said Libby Young, coordinator of the Star Poets contest, sponsored by Windward Community College and Starbucks Coffee.

"The teachers are hungry for it, and the kids are hungry for it."

Although people tend to draw distinctions between basic skills and the arts, Young said the art of poetry reinforces writing basics. It appeals to students because it is less prescriptive than other forms of writing, allowing them to express their emotions freely, she said.

"What makes poetry work is partly the strong feeling behind it but also the concrete imagery that is part of good writing," Young said. "It helps us see a picture of what you're thinking."

The contest began in 1999 with just 300 entries and has grown so fast that it has been hard for organizers to keep up.

"We were amazed that the number of entries more than doubled from last year," said Angela Meixell, Windward's chancellor.

"The goal of the program is to encourage a new generation of young writers, and that's what seems to be happening."

Part of the explosion in interest in the past year came through poetry workshops conducted by poet Susan Lee St. John at schools and community sites, funded by a grant from the Starbucks Foundation.

The workshops, which continue this summer, are designed to demystify the process of writing poetry. They help teachers, parents and students get beyond their preconceived notions of what makes a poem and to think creatively.

Contestants are judged according to grade level. Students at Fern Elementary in Kalihi fielded two of the 10 first-place winners.

"Young people have a lot to say if you give them the chance to express themselves," said Susan Otaguro, vice principal at Fern, which is near Kuhio Park Terrace. "At first our students couldn't believe they had won awards. It gave the whole school a tremendous boost."

Starbucks gave cash prizes totaling more than $1,400 to the winners, with another $5,500 going to the students' schools to support literacy programs. This year's top 30 winners, in first through third place, were published in the Star Poets Journal 2003, 15,000 copies of which are being distributed through Starbucks stores and sent to public and private schools.

All winning poems, including honorable mentions, are posted on Windward Community College's Web site at

Upcoming Poetry Workshops

>> Creative Writing Studio for Teachers and Parents -- June 23-27, 8:30-11:30 a.m., Windward Community College. Writing strategies used in the Poets in the Schools program to encourage writing and creativity. Cost: $10. Call 235-7433 to register.

>> Let's Write Poetry Together! A Workshop for Parents and Children -- Mondays, June 30, July 7, 14 and 21, 6:30-8 p.m., Windward Community College, Hale Alakai 102. Cost: $5 for supplies per family, payable at the first class. Call 235-7747 to register. For children ages 6 to 10 and their parent or guardian.


The First Approach

My mother warned me,
About my father's side of the family.
"They're mean people and no longer
will they be part of our lives," she said.
She kept me away as much as she could
But we met once again, beneath a roof
For one reason --
To say goodbye to my grandfather.
Now sitting in the first row,
I watch as my cousin presents the eulogy
Speaking of memories of spending time with him.
As I listen quietly,
My head aches, trying to remember
At least one of my own memories,
I'm saddened by the fact that I have none.
Now making my way to the line,
Waiting my turn to say goodbye.
The line's full now of sobbing people and regrets.
Now thinking, I had eleven years
To make the first approach.

By Pia Grace Baldovi
Moanalua High School
First place, 10th-grade category


E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --