Posted in Poetry, Teaching

Vision+Voice 2019 / Why Poetry Matters

I almost didn’t make it to the Vision+Voice reception this year.

Teaching all day + Writing Club + grading + trying to perfect that PowerPoint for Monday, and suddenly it was 6:30PM, and I was still in my classroom, and the Vision+Voice reception was starting across town in half an hour. For a quarter of a second, I considered not going. Then I dropped everything and jumped in the car.

Traffic was not in my favor as I made my way from south Austin to the ACC Highland campus. Once, my uninformed GPS even routed me through a construction zone. (Hello, men in hard hats! Sorry! Don’t mind me!) By the time I arrived at the community college, my shoulders were stiff, and I was calculating what time I might finally be home. 9:00PM? 9:30? 10:00? I felt the weight of my day bearing down on me as I walked across the parking lot.

Then I stepped inside, and all my stress lifted away. I couldn’t believe I considered missing this event for even a quarter of a second.

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Vision+Voice is everything I love in one place. It’s students, dressed up and looking happy and nervous at the same time. It’s families, beaming and hugging and taking pictures. It’s teachers, nodding and saying how proud they are. It’s music, art, and good food. And it’s poetry.

The program was launched by Austin Community College in 2013. It’s an annual contest for students in Austin to submit poetry on any topic, in any language. ACC Creative Writing students and published poets judge the poems. One winner and a number of honorable mentions are selected from every grade level. The poems are published in a beautiful anthology, and the poets are invited to record a video reading their poems at KLRU. In addition, the first place poems are paired with a piece of art created by an ACC student and made into posters to be displayed in homes, schools, and libraries across the city.

This year, my school was honored to have three young poets recognized for their poems: Harper J (sixth grade honorable mention), Noah L (seventh grade winner), and Hadley S (seventh grade honorable mention). Hadley wrote a tritina poem called “Shooting Stars” during our class’s poetry unit. Noah wrote “Cactus Poem” (about cacti who need a break from posing for pictures all the time) based on another student’s creative writing prompt during our school’s Writing Club. And Harper, who also recently joined the Writing Club, wrote a poem called “Love Letter” which reads the same forward and backward. So cool.

I walked in to the beautifully decorated atrium where the reception was being held. I met my students’ families and congratulated the poets. I got some food, sat down, listened to speeches, watched videos of young poets reading their words, and didn’t stop smiling for the next two hours.

Seeing these young writers, ages 5 to 18, stand in front of a camera with their poems in their hands, sharing their creativity with the world brought tears to my eyes. They were articulate and vulnerable and proud and passionate and confident and true and beautiful. They give me hope for our future.

A few of my favorite lines and moments…

The second grade winner, Maple W, wrote a song called “I am still me.” It begins, “I am a monster in my tomb/ singing with the tune,” and it ends, “be nice to me,/ because I am still me.”

The beginning of fifth grader Beatrix L’s poem “The Sapling” gave me shivers:

“The spirit inside the tree
Is full of unrest.
She thinks I have come
To take away her host.”

Sixth grader Didion C’s poem “Coral” addressed environmental concerns, saying, “Fate may be inevitable/ But we can help.”

The last lines of these poets’ poems all stayed with me:

“You must ask questions of all sizes.” – Nicole P, 7th grade
“I am alive” – Andrea H, 9th grade (She was my student two years ago!)
“These streets could belong to me.” – Amy S, 12th grade

I can’t help it. I get chills when I hear these lines.

Brad Richard, the keynote speaker at the reception, gave a speech titled “Why Poetry Matters.” His words were true and inspiring and thoughtful, but I couldn’t help but feel like they were also unnecessary. I challenge anyone to listen to children read poems about life, love, nature, the earth, freedom, home, truth, and monsters without understanding—immediately and inherently—why poetry matters to our world.

I almost didn’t make it to the Vision+Voice Reception this year, but I’m SO GLAD I DID.

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Note: The poems mentioned in this post are only a few of the incredible pieces of writing in this year’s anthology. And there were so many more poems that weren’t recognized with awards, but which are also beautiful and thought-provoking. All of the poems entered this year can be found on the Vision+Voice website. I recommend getting a cup of coffee and spending an hour or so immersing yourself in them. Start with “My Home” by my student Rayaan H about his beloved Pakistan. It put a lump in my throat when he read it in front of my class earlier this year.

Links to All Poems Mentioned in This Post:

Haiku

Posted in Poetry

Politics aside

Happy National Poetry Month!

Today I’d like to share a little haiku I wrote that was first published in The Texas Observer in 2015.

Naomi Shihab Nye, who chose the poem for publication, said about my work: “I love Carie Juettner’s understated twist of observational loveliness in this tiny poem. When people in other states ask, as they frequently do, ‘Why do you live in Texas?’ one could simply reply ‘For the flowers’ and be done with it.”

This comment from my favorite poet left me smiling ear-to-ear for several days. I still get a thrill each time I read it and think about her reading my words.

With a big thanks to Naomi and The Texas Observer for giving this haiku its first home, here is “Politics aside”:

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Politics aside,
wildflower season brings out
the blue in Texas

© Carie Juettner, 2015

Posted in Poetry

Ode to Oak Season

Today at school, my sinus headache made me grumpy with my students, even though they hadn’t done anything to make me grumpy. But I don’t think they noticed; they were grumpy too. One boy bravely volunteered answers and completed his work while holding a tissue to his nose the entire class period. One girl had to go to the bathroom due to a bloody nose. In one class, I counted nine sneezes. (Two of them were mine. One came from somewhere in the hallway.) Everyone who wasn’t actively sneezing, sniffling, or coughing stared at me with a vague, foggy expression.

All of this is to say… oak season has descended on Austin.

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This is the big, beautiful, majestic (evil, torturous, sneeze-inducing) oak tree in our front yard and the top of my car, which used to be blue.

Ten days ago, I was writing on patios and taking walks at the Wildflower Center and sleeping in my hammock. Now, it feels like any one of those things could kill me. The pollen count is in the high to extreme-high range, which means every time I go outside for more than two minutes, my eyes start to itch, my sinuses swell up, and I start talking like the albino in The Princess Bride before he cleared his throat.

Ah, spring time.

I wrote a poem about oak allergies, which is in this year’s Texas Poetry Calendar. In honor of oak season and National Poetry Month, wipe off your glasses, put some drops in your eyes, and read “Yellow.” I’m going to go use my neti pot.

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We are covered in cowardice,
seeped in a sickly smear
that sticks in crevices
and crow’s feet,
revealing all our lines.

We wade through
fallen sunshine,
track fresh banana footprints
onto faded dandelion floors,
taste gold dust on our tongues.

We yield to the bitter grime
that clogs our nostrils,
clothing our lungs
in warning shades
with each breath.

During oak season,
we view the world
through a margarine haze,
learn how it feels
to be pollinated.

© Carie Juettner