Many teachers in today’s classrooms will comment about students’ resistance to writing assignments and reading. This is true across all levels of education.

Reading and writing are different sides of one coin. These skills are essential in today’s world. Learning to write poetry is an important developmental step that improves all types of writing. It involves using language in a way that develops cognitive abilities, including memory search, visualization, developing an emotional vocabulary, and abstract thinking.

To encourage more student involvement in writing, Voices de la Luna – a poetry and arts magazine published quarterly in San Antonio – started its Youth Poetry Contest in 2014, where local students can submit their work for a chance to be published in the magazine and win a cash prize. The originators of this event include board members Mo H. Saidi, co-founder and editor emeritus; Jimmy Adair, executive editor; Carla Pineda, executive director; Carol Coffee Reposa, poetry editor; and Lou Taylor, director.

This year was Voices de la Luna‘s third Youth Poetry Contest, which included 20 poems submitted by students from TMI — The Episcopal School of Texas, three poems from students at Young Women’s Leadership Academy, and two poems from students at Kealing Middle School in Austin. Reposa judged the submissions.

The four contest winners were recognized at an awards ceremony earlier this month at the Tobin Branch Library, where the students read their entries to the crowd. H-E-B provided funding for the event and Wings Press provided copies of its poetry publications to the finalists. In recognition of the students’ fine work, Voices de la Luna published the finalists’ poems in the February issue.

Maram Al-Hakeem, a student at TMI, received the top honor, which included $150. Other contest winners also received smaller cash prizes.

Al-Hakeem’s poem, “Taken,” is a memoir poem about an emotionally charged incident that took place very early in her life at the age of 5. When reciting her poem at the ceremony, she recounted this episode in a clear, straightforward voice that evoked sharp images and the deeper meaning embedded in this poem. (“Taken” is printed at the bottom of this story.)

Sophia Ruth Newmark from Kealing Middle School won second place for “The Swan Pair,” a poem wherein the narrator describes a pastoral scene involving swans. The image is well-established and the narrative clear and focused. The theme is about the life cycle of the swans, but also the life cycle for all living things.

TMI student Nathan Romo took third place for his poem “Small Talk,” a well-crafted narrative that evoked many familiar images of high school. In the poem, Romo carefully details each junction in the narrator’s attempt to start a meaningful conversation that ends up as a one-sided, meaningless chat.

Veronica Berger from Young Women’s Leadership Academy was the fourth-place finalist for her poem “Ode to Suits,” a clever narrative about an article of clothing and its influences throughout a person’s life. It is a tongue-in-cheek, humorous itemization of a suit coat and its wearer in different situations that occur in everyone’s life at one time or another.

The four poems receiving honorable mentions were: Peter Fera, TMI, “What Makes You Afraid;” Darby Moran, TMI, “Behind the Curtain;” Ashton Ward, TMI, “Time Stands Still;” Haddie Hill, TMI, “I Am American But Not America.”

It was a pleasure to hear these young people eloquently present their work. Their demonstration indicates academic success, vocabulary development, awareness of their feelings, and the self-confidence to express their inner thoughts in front of an audience. The awards ceremony was another demonstration of the students’ literary and emotional development.

The Youth Poetry Contest has been successful since its inception. Voices would like to expand on this success to include even more student-poets. For next year, the publication will work to increase student participation through more contact with schools and through public announcements.

“Taken” by Maram Al-Hakeem

Gunfire erupts. Chaos follows.

Bullets are being shot at me

From all sides.

Nowhere to run.

Nowhere to hide.

Nowhere to go.

The screams drift into the sky

Rising higher and higher,

Searching for someone

To hear them,

Go!

Leave!

Hide!

Where?

I didn’t know where.

The armed men appear

From dust and begin to

Grasp both my arms

Tighter and Tighter,

Afraid I’ll go

Like my sister had told me to.

I never saw her again.

They took me from my home.

They took me when I was only 5.

The white of their skin

Still darker than my innocent soul had been

Harold Rodinsky

Harold Rodinsky holds a doctorate in experimental psychology. Since retiring from the University of the Incarnate Word he has had his poetry published in Voices de la Luna, the San Antonio Express-News,...