Winners of this year’s Robert Campbell Monterey County High School Poetry Awards will be honored during an online ceremony and poetry reading on Saturday, May 16th at 2:00 pm. To receive access to this Zoom event, please contact our office at firstname.lastname@example.org. For twenty-six years, our annual program provides students an opportunity to master public speaking skills and build self-confidence as they learn the craft of poetry.
The poetry awards were made possible by grants from the Arts Council for Monterey County, Monterey County Board of Supervisors, Community Foundation for Monterey County, Nancy Buck Ransom Foundation, Pebble Beach Company Foundation, Monterey Peninsula Foundation, Volunteer Services for Monterey County, Carmel-by-the-Sea Rotary, and Yellow Brick Road Benefit Store.
Pictured above: “Essence of Life” – Jose Marquez, Carmel High School
Finding Our Way
On Saturday, March 14, I presented the last of my poetry writing workshops to the students at Wellington Smith School in Salinas. I had, since February 6, been visiting high schools throughout Monterey County, from Carmel to Gonzales, from Pacific Grove to Rancho San Juan, from Marina to North Salinas, as well as Rancho Cielo Community School and Silver Star Center, both located in Salinas.
The day before, Monterey County had made a local emergency proclamation as a precautionary measure “to help the County mobilize and coordinate resources should the [corona]virus be detected here.” That day, the Monterey County Free Libraries closed all its branches. On the 17th, the first confirmed cases of the coronavirus were reported. On the following day, the first Shelter in Place order was issued by the Monterey County Health Department. By the 20th, there were five confirmed cases.
From what we know now, the coronavirus had been spreading while I had been visiting the various high schools. I feel so grateful that neither, as far as I know, the teachers, students and staff nor I contracted the virus as the result of our contact with each other. I like to think that we were protected by the poetry that we shared, even though I know that is a romantic illusion.
What is not a romantic illusion is the power of poetry to transform, to empower, to solace, to delight. Which is why, after more than twenty years, I still visit the high schools in Monterey County to provide an introduction to the writing of poetry and to encourage students to submit their poems to the Monterey County High School Poetry Awards. This year we had over 400 students submitting more than 700 poems.
Whether telling us where they are from or how lonely it is sitting in a cell, whether avowing one’s faith in God or pleading in defense of nature, whether describing how the death of a parent has torn a home apart or sending a letter to absent fathers, whether comparing themselves to peanut butter or extolling the wonders of the sweet potato—the poems in this collection of award winners are instruments through which the young poets are finding their voices. It is an important part of their transformation from teenagers to adults.
In the process, they find empowerment—to assert one’s worth and value in the face of adversity and tragedy; they find joy in discovering and affirming who they are; they find solace in language, its ability to give expression to what they are feeling and thinking.
What better gift than poetry in these disconcerting and stressful times! Both the writing of poetry and the reading of poetry. The poems that follow were written before schools were closed, before Shelter in Place Orders put stress on all of us socially, economically and emotionally. They arrived only because the incredible teachers we are fortunate to have in the various school districts of our County either gathered and mailed the poems after the schools were closed or encouraged their students to do so. I have always valued our high school teachers for their dedication, commitment and caring; now, I value them even more. They deserve enormous recognition, gratitude and thanks.
I hope reading these poems will, in this time of the coronavirus epidemic, transform, empower, solace and delight you as well. This is the power of poetry. Poetry will serve us well as we listen to the voices of our young adults. We will find our way.
Elliot Ruchowitz-Roberts, Poet-in-the-Schools, Carl Cherry Center for the Arts