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Poetry Workshop Inspires Students, Parents, Community

Members of a poetry workshop put some of the finishing touches on a book during a final meeting of the group on Monday, May 13.

The workshop started meeting six weeks ago, and was co-taught by Fairfield University Professor and Newtown resident Carol Ann Davis and Hawley Elementary School fourth grade teacher Lea Attanasio. The pair offered the workshop for students throughout town in third through sixth grade and their parents. The workshop was free and offered at Hawley Elementary School on Monday evenings.

The Connecticut Writing Project and DonorChoose.com provided resources for the workshop, according to Ms Attanasio.

Ms Attanasio said the poetry workshop grew out of a desire to be one of the people providing help in healing and rebuilding the community following the events of 12/14.

“We know that writing can be therapeutic, an outlet for expressing our feelings,” Ms Attanasio said this week. “Poetry, in particular, allows us to freely express ourselves without the rules and conventions of paragraph writing.”

Along with receiving funding from the Connecticut Writing Project and DonorChoose.com, Ms Attanasio said a number of volunteers came forward from Fairfield University to help with the poetry workshop.

“The participants came for a variety of reasons,” Ms Attanasio said, “because it was free, because their friends wanted to do it with them, because their parents made them, or because they simply love to write. Whatever the reason, the end result was the same. Everyone discovered that they are a poet: that they do have the creative and emotional capacity to ‘paint with words’ and that they can make sense of their world through writing.”

Over the course of the six sessions, Ms Davis said writing topics ranged from blowing bubbles to home. Workshop attendees also discovered metaphors, inspected sentences, and finished with writing descriptions.

“The idea tonight is to see themselves as writers,” said Ms Davis near the start of the last poetry workshop.

Along with Ms Attanasio and Ms Davis, Fairfield University Professor Beth Boquet, Fairfield University student Charlotte Pecquex, and Connecticut Writing Project Director Bryan Ripley Crandall were also in attendance at Monday’s poetry workshop meeting.

“Poems written by all of the participants will be published in a book,” said Ms Attanasio. “Rose Carlson from Tupelo Press has offered to do the layout and design work for the publication. The participants will all receive a copy. The group will reconvene in June for a celebratory reading of some of these poems.”

About ten to 15 parents attended the poetry workshop meetings and 28 students participated, according to Ms Davis.

“The theory behind this is that writing together is a community building activity and also a healing activity,” said Ms Davis.

Ms Davis said she moved to Newtown in July from Charleston, S.C., where she was also a professor of poetry. She oversaw a poetry program at the high school level for five years, and thought bringing something like that could be helpful for the Newtown community.

Participating with the poetry workshop was “life changing” for Ms Pecquex, who said she learned about the opportunity from Ms Davis.

“Seeing how expressive kids are with their poems is really incredible,” said Ms Pecquex. “I never would have guessed they would have been that intoned with their senses. In a way it is almost grander than adults.”

Ms Attanasio pointed out that one of the unique things about the poetry workshop was that it pulled students from across the district together.

“It helped build a sense of community, forged new friendships, and allowed participants to share their knowledge and ideas across the district,” Ms Attanasio said. “It was heartwarming to observe the interaction between the participants and watch the supportive relationships between children and adults develop and grow over the course of the six weeks.”

Mary Kirlin attended the poetry workshops with her sixth grade daughter Fallyn. Ms Kirlin said she was amazed and always is at what her daughter comes up with for her writing projects.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Fallyn, smiling at her mother. “I’ve actually learned a lot.”

Ms Boquet estimated more than 200 poems were created over the course of the poetry workshop, and those poems will be edited to include some of each writer’s work in the book.

While details on the book are still being decided, Ms Davis said the group is thinking about asking for a suggested donation for the book to help fund further poetry workshop programs.

“Learning to write poetry was a goal and certainly a positive and meaningful outcome of the workshop,” Ms Attanasio said. “In addition, though, participants developed confidence in speaking before a large group, made some new friends, learned the value of collaboration, and heightened their sense of community and pride in our town. Of course, we hope that through this experience, they will continue to read, write, and share their love of poetry, today, tomorrow, and throughout their lives.”

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