Rivalry spreads to the written word

Athletic rivalry between the ‘Stangs, Kangs and Wolves is nothing new.

  • Thursday, April 10, 2008 4:45pm
  • News

Local poet Rick Smith

Redmond, LW, Eastlake face off in poetry contest

Athletic rivalry between the ‘Stangs, Kangs and Wolves is nothing new.

Now students from Redmond, Lake Washington and Eastlake High Schools are facing off in a very different field — the field of poetry. And there’s money at stake.

To celebrate National Poetry Month and encourage creative writing by teens, the recently-formed New Poet’s Society is inviting students from these three high schools to submit two of their best, original poems to their English department heads by April 14.

A selection committee at each school, including teachers from across the curriculum, will choose poems to forward to the New Poet’s Society by April 16. On April 20, prize winners will be announced at a 7 p.m. ceremony in the Cadle Theatre at Lake Washington High School.

The first place Judges’ Choice award winner will receive $1,200. The second place winner will receive $800. Third and fourth place winners will get $600 and $400, respectively.

It’s hoped that students will use that money for college or other educational expenses, said Rick Smith, founder of the non-profit New Poet’s Society. He spoke to all English classes at Redmond High School (RHS) on April 8.

A Redmond resident and former fire chief, Smith told RHS students, “I’m enjoying the greatest retirement of anyone I know,” including being an award-winning writer with the pen name of R.E. Smith.

Since April 2006, he’s had two books of poetry published. He won a silver medallion for the 2007 Bill Fisher Award (for best first book) at the PMA Benjamin Franklin Awards, announced in May 2007 at a ceremony in New York.

Fire science and poetry may seem like strange bedfellows, yet Smith said his stressful experiences as a firefighter had a direct bearing on what he now does for a living.

“A lot of what I saw and felt ended up in poetry. I like to study life and human emotions,” he explained. “If you like to write or read, those two elements can be applied to anything you do.”

He didn’t have the benefit of creative writing or AP classes when he was in high school. Although he always liked to write, he kept his poems hidden for years. He eventually started sharing his work at open mic events, attending seminars and seeking feedback. Otherwise, he never would have known his potential.

“Two things to remember — the editor and publisher are your two best friends,” Smith remarked. He said that listening to constructive criticism is essential to improvement and told students about reputable online sites where they can submit poetry, get reviewed and possibly earn money.

Aside from the cash, why should teens do this?

“There’s a rebirth of people needing to read the stories, to share emotional experiences that we all can identify with,” said Smith.

He read aloud “Love Maturing,” a touching poem that he wrote for a favorite uncle and aunt as they grew old, as well as a poem about his own inevitable passing and a love poem to his wife. And he talked about how to compress and compact poems so that little vignettes from our lives — the memories or dreams that bring tears or elation — jump off the page with their messages.

He also shared handouts about “important words for writers to think about, know and use,” while writing poetry or studying for the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning).

Smith’s books “A Sweeter Understanding” and “The Window Ledge” are available at Soulfood Books in Redmond and at Parkplace Books in Kirkland. For information about Smith or the New Poet’s Society, e-mail rsmith2@hotmail.com.

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