For 24 hours last weekend, Foxcroft School students immersed themselves in rhyme and rhythm, writing, reading, listening and learning as they celebrated poetry at the Paul. K Bergan Poetry Festival.
The immersion began Friday afternoon when visiting poet Sandra Beasley met with a small group of young poets to discuss and critique their work and ended with editors of Foxcroft’s literary magazine interviewing the award-winning writer late Saturday. I
n between, sophomore Trinity Patterson won the Poetry Slam with a terrific spoken-word performance, four eloquent students earned laurels (literally) for their competitive readings of published works, and the community enjoyed a reading, workshop and lunch with Beasley as well as readings by faculty, foreign language students and international students, who shared original poems in their native language and in English.
“This may have been the best poetry festival in years,” said Steve McCarty, English teacher, literary magazine advisor and Friday night emcee.
“The participation and quality of work was terrific”
Natalie Harris of Laurel, MD; Michelle Arubi of Lagos, Nigeria; Elle Rosse of McLean, and Maria Michel of Mexico City took top honors in Saturday’s poetry reading competition, while Hannah Butcher of Leesburg, VA, won the first annual Chimera Poetry Contest after her poem was chosen from more than 100 submissions by the literary magazine’s board. Faylin Harrison of Culpeper, VA, placed second in both the Slam and the Chimera contest, followed by Rosse in the former and Jacina Hollins-Borges of Alpharetta, GA, in the latter.
It was the second title for Harris, a senior, who also won her sophomore year. Arubi’s moving reading of “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou took junior honors and Rosse won the sophomore title with “But You Didn’t” by Merrill Glass. In the freshman class, Michel slipped from English to Spanish and back seamlessly in an unusual poem entitled, “ Bilingual/Bilingue” by Rhina P. Espaillat.
Three students in each grade who have been chosen by their peers and certified by faculty judges in two previous rounds of competition read in Saturday’s finals. As visiting poet, Beasley judges their performances and awards laurel wreaths to the best.
Beasley, a 2015 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow, has been honored for each of her published collections of poetry. She won the 2007 New Issues Poetry Prize for her first collection, Theories of Falling, and the 2009 Barnard Women Poets Prize for her second, I Was the Jukebox. Her latest collection, Count the Waves (W. W. Norton, 2015), includes a number of poems from the chapbook that earned her the 2013 Center for Book Arts Poetry Chapbook Prize. In small groups and large, Beasley enthusiastic and animated passion for poetry engaged the students.
Foxcroft’s poetry competition dates back decades; the festival was renamed to honor a beloved teacher when he retired in 2007. Visiting poets over the years have included Pulitzer Prize winners Archibald MacLeish and Claudia Emerson, National Haiku champ Joel Dias Porter (aka DJ Renegade), and performance poets Clint Smith, Jason LeVasseur, and Nan Fry.