LESLE CRISS: Judging young writers’ words leaves mighty strong impression

“… I believe that words, too,
are necessities – and to give
the children of the world the words they need is, in a real sense, to give them life and growth and refreshment.”
– Katherine Paterson

“The important thing
in writing is the capacity
to astonish.”
– Terry Southern

More than a month ago, I had the honor of spending a morning at the Hancock Leadership Center with my friend and co-worker Ginny Miller.
We’d been asked to help judge this year’s Cellular South GumTree Celebration of Writing Contest.
When we arrived, we were assigned to help with the narratives and poems submitted by seniors.
I was a little disappointed at first as I heard a table of judges laughing out loud at some of the elementary schoolers’ entries. But my disappointment would soon disappear.
Ginny began immediately helping the other judge in our category, Hope Johns who teaches ninth-graders English at Saltillo High School. They read the narratives which were stacked in a somewhat short stack.

Many ‘good ones’
A second stack on my end of the table nearly toppled it was so tall. So, I plunged into piles of poetry.
Because our time was limited and our task loomed large, I told my tablemates I’d give the poems a cursory read and cull, leaving a smaller stack of the strongest offerings from which to choose winners.
The best-laid plans …
Rather than a cursory read, I became lost in the words written by 12th-grade poets from the Tupelo/Lee County area.
Rather than a small stack of “the good ones,” I was hard-pressed to discard any.
I wondered how many of these young people had penned a poem simply as a classroom assignment.
I wondered, also, if the young writers of the words I was reading had a special teacher who might encourage them to continue writing. I hope so.
“How many winners can we choose?” we asked.
“Three,” was the answer.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I learned we could have a third-place tie, but I remained frustrated that we couldn’t acknowledge more of the poets and their work.
After we finished judging, I made sure the folks in charge knew how impressed I’d been with the entries of the seniors.
But they weren’t the only ones deserving praise. I know from the sounds coming from the other judges’ tables, there were great entries submitted in all grades, K through 12, like my little friend Sarah Claire Miller, who won first place among kindergartners for her poem, “Spring Song.”
Kudos, kids.
Be proud parents, you have some talented offspring.

Contact Leslie Criss at (662) 678-1584 or leslie.criss@djournal.com.


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