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Homestead CCHS Students Win Top Prizes at Sullivan Youth Poetry Festival

colin kinney

By Kelly Adams

Two Homestead Collaborative College High School students took home top prizes at the first annual Sullivan Youth Poetry Festival. Colin Kinney, a ninth-grade student at CCHS, won first prize for his poem “A Fickle Young Mind” and Sindhu Villareal, also a ninth-grade student, won third prize for her poem “Sestina”. 

The Sullivan Youth Poetry Festival was held at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts on Saturday, April 2, from 2 to 3 PM and was organized by the Sullivan County Poet Laureate, Eric Baylin. Over seventy students from area schools submitted their poetry, and many of them read their work live at the event. Mr. Baylin said the turnout exceeded his expectations, and the reading had a standing-room-only crowd.

In addition to the two award winners, six other CCHS students submitted poetry, and five of them read their poems in front of the audience. All of the CCHS students who submitted poems were part of a poetry elective. During the elective, they read novels-in-verse, studied classic and modern poetry, and spent time trying out different poetic forms.

Colin Kinney’s poem was inspired by reading a poem by Billy Collins about turning ten, and then reflecting on his own childhood memories. Colin’s poem exhibits an outstanding use of specific imagery in contrast to the generalities many young poets tend to focus on. His poem evokes a strong mood, uses beautiful alliteration, and invites the reader to question the way memories evolve.

Here is Collin’s poem in his voice:

“A Fickle Young Mind” by Colin Kinney
A Fickle Young Mind
By: Colin Kinney

My life started at 4,
I have 3 memories of that age,
2 you may never know, but
1 I will tell you.

It is a memory consisting of
dirt,
tobacco, 
Advil,
and beaten microwaves.

It is a workshop.
My dad’s,
the white lights bright enough
to make you melt, 
only to meet
grime and cigarette butts 
that laced the floor.

His machines,
sitting next to each other,
filling the room with 
the smell of WD40.
The space between his tarnished truck 
and the shovel of an excavator
made perfect hiding spots.

Old tires rolled down hills,
we watched them burst 
as they met
the thorns of the
bustling blackberry bushes,
biding time at the bottom
of the hill. Besides that,
my brother and I
made forts under slanted trailers,
chased each other with rusted saws,
and climbed wood piles,
with no regard for splinters.

But now, a decade later,
I think back on those popped tires,
and wonder what I may have forgotten.
What details have my mind erased?
What magic made such perfect hiding places?
Where had those tires once been?
Could I have imagined the whole thing?
Were my 3 memories only 2?

I can not go back there now.
These questions will never be 
answered.

Though I know youth still 
flows through my veins,
and I have barely scratched
life’s surface,
the mind remains a fickle thing.

No matter your age,
the mind e x p a n d s,
like a horizon blending into space,
or an untamed blackberry bush,
its contents withering 
until the mind’s memories 
fall from the branch
only to return back to the Earth.

Sindhu Villareal’s poem, “Sestina”, uses a complex poetic form where the poet ends each line with one of six words, varying the pattern with each stanza. It’s a challenging piece of poetic wordplay, and was inspired by David Elliot’s novel-in-verse, Voices. Elliot uses forms such as the sestina, rondel, triolet, and others to tell the story of Joan-of-Arc’s life. Students read the poems in class and then tried the forms out themselves.

Sestina 
By Sindhu Villareal 
Sat up by the windowsill, she watches the photos 
which lie by her bed, hesitant for tomorrow, 
hesitant for the long dark 
to pass. The light dawn brings chatter. 
The moonshine invites a glare. 
The starshine invites a gleam onto her delicate ring. 

With the dawn comes a sharp sound, the ring 
of the telephone. A quick check to the photos 
and she's off, for tomorrow 
has come. She misses the smooth comfort of the dark. The only comfort she has now is the consistent chatter of her teeth. The man on the train gives her a glare. 

His eyes are cold, his suit is dark. 
His fidgeting seems mindless, making smooth circles, rings on his palm. The more he stares, the more the chatter builds. Talking, crying, yelling are the photos. 
Now the gnawing at her stomach makes her wonder for tomorrow, but all she can do is glare. 

It lasts a while, this stalemate glare, 
before she breaks away. She makes it home, the dark kitchen tile a familiar cool. The mail is coming tomorrow expected as she wrings 
out her soiled mind. She forgot to check her photos in her pocket, shattered. 

Shattered shattered shattered, the chatter. 
Wary wary wary, she glares. 
They are angry at being forgotten, the photos, 
they shout as the dark 
creeps around her vision, swallowing her, ears ringing. She knows she won't make it to tomorrow. 

It's the day after I saw that lady, tomorrow. 
A strange consistent noise, a chatter 
has dawned. It feels like stepping into the ring, 
a potential punch. Giving her, my opponent, a steadying glare. Her cheeks were gaunt, dark 
bruised with the shadow they held, clutching old photos,
maybe six or seven. Odd, that lady, and her returning glare. I grip the subway pole, securing myself, and notice my fingers are dark with the dust of something I had never held, the woman's photos.

“It was a real treat to hear such a variety of teen voices from around the county represented at the Youth Poetry Festival. My family and I were struck by the courage that it took for these young poets to stand before a packed room and share what often were very personal reflections. The students encouraged each other so sweetly. Having our CCHS students present and recognized at this event was very affirming of one of our core program aims, the development of self-expression.” 

– JACK COMSTOCK, DIRECTOR HOMESTEAD CCHS

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