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Cheshire High School senior Jessica Poling has been a member of the club Writer's Block for four years and, in that time, she has helped organize the yearly event, Poem in your Pocket.
Yet, this year was a different experience for Poling. That's because, this time around, instead of just helping run the event, she and her fellow upperclassmen were organizing it.
“It just felt a little different,” said Poling. “We were able to make it our own this year. We decided what materials to get and how to set it up. We changed it in minor ways.”
On Friday, April 15, just before Cheshire schools officially went on spring break vacation, Poling and her classmates held Poem in your Pocket in the school's library.
What has become a yearly event at the school, the literature-focused activity invites students of all ages to come to the library throughout the course of the morning and early afternoon to read original and classic poems, swap writings, and participate in different crafts. It is all an attempt to introduce a younger generation to the joys of poetry.
“It is a great event and we've had a great turnout,” said CHS teacher Diann Milone, who began the activity four years ago and helps organize it each spring.
The annual Pocket first began in New York City as a way for residents to share their love of poetry with others throughout the day. Individuals were encouraged to carry a selected or original poem with them in their pocket and share it with the random people they met.
The tradition caught on in other areas of the country and, in 2008, as a part of Poetry Month in April, the first annual National Poem in your Pocket Day was scheduled.
The event has grown in Cheshire over the last several years, to the point where the library is almost always packed between 9 and 11 a.m., when most students come to partake in the different activities.
For Poling, poetry has always been a joy and having the opportunity to share that passion with other teenagers is exciting.
“I love performing poetry because it is all about playing with the language,” she said. “You get to play with the words and then share that with other people.”
On one side of the library, two large tables attracted scores of students who walked about using all different materials — construction paper, stickers, markers, and paper — to create different original crafts. In the middle of the library, another table was filled with individual pieces of paper, where students would come and exchange their own poem for one in the pile.
The sharing was done towards the back of the library, where a podium and microphone had been set up in front of a number of seats. One by one, students would rise, usually holding a single piece of paper, and approach the podium. Introducing their selection, the teenagers would begin to read, some forcefully and with a theatrical flare, other with a more quiet and reserved tone, but each would receive applause after finishing.
Then, the next brave poet would rise and take to the microphone.
One of the poems Poling read for the event was Billy Collins' “Why I Don't Keep a Gun in The House,” a comical piece about how a dog's incessant barking affects a neighbor. It was the type of poem that brought a smile to Poling's face as she read each line, and one that had her interested audience chuckling.
Some of the poems read were humorous in nature, like Poling's selection, while others were far more serious. Some teens chose to read works by famous writers, like Meghan Higgins, who decided that, if she was going to read something aloud, it might as well be from arguably the greatest writer of all time, Shakespeare. Others, however, read personal pieces that came from the heart.
Dyllon Calandro (pictured above) read a mix of both at the event. Alternating between the two, Calandro read an original piece followed by a classic poem.
“It is harder to read the one you wrote yourself in front of everyone, no question,” Calandro admitted. “It is difficult to divulge personal feelings.”
While the literary genre might not be everyone's favorite, Calandro looks at poetry as a necessary part of his life, allowing him to “get my feelings down in black and white.” Through Poem in your Pocket, he hoped other students would give poetry a chance.
“It can mean so much to you,” he said. “You never know what it is going to teach you.”