Passion for Poetry at First Westwood Children's Poetry Festival


Photo by Westwood Minute/Darlene Wong Cancell. (L to R) Westwood High School students Ethan Walsh, Sam Schmitz, and Lucie Sechler provided inspiration and guidance to young participants in a poetry workshop of setting new lyrics to familiar tunes.

While some of their peers were hitting the slopes or Disney World over winter break, an inquisitive group of Westwood area youth spent part of their vacation at the Westwood Public Library—immersed in poetry.

Photo by Katie Sechler. At the February 20th poetry workshop with poet Nancy Tupper Ling, participants were from local areas including Westwood and West Roxbury and came from as far away as San Jose, California. They all left the event with a poem to share with family.

A three-day Westwood Children's Poetry Festival was coordinated by the town’s Poet Laureate Lynne Viti and Youth Poet Laureate Lucie Sechler. The first day’s writing workshop was geared towards students from second through sixth grade. Viti believes poetry needs to be introduced to students when they are young.

“It’s just like reading or something that’s foreign like calculus,” said Viti. “You don’t start people with calculus. You start them with simple math and building exercises. Particularly in this country, poetry is appreciated but seen as something very academic, and we are trying to make it more accessible and more everyday.”

Photo courtesy of Westwood Public Library. Two students create their poems about a place.

Poet and children’s author Nancy Tupper Ling ran the first day’s session. She first had the group work together to come up with a list poem.

“A list poem is exactly like it sounds,” said Tupper Ling. “It’s list about something. Our list poem is about a season, and the kids used the senses to come up with words they associate with the season.”

Photo courtesy of Westwood Public Library. Poet and author Nancy Tupper Ling led a festival workshop on the first of three days.

After writing about summer – and using such sensory-invoking words as charred hot dogs, ocean waves, and the hot sun – the students created their own list poem about a place that is important to them.

On the second day, students immersed themselves in writing lyrics then setting them to music, thanks to the help of Westwood High School (WHS) senior Sam Schmitz accompanied them on guitar.

Photo by Westwood Minute/Darlene Wong Cancell. Westwood High School Senior Sam Schmitz strummed on the guitar as accompaniment for children who spoke or sang their original lyrics.

About 60 people came to the last event of the festival, which featured a reading by renowned Cuban American poet Richard Blanco, whose festival visit was made possible with funding from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Westwood Public Library. Blanco spoke of his childhood experiences along with the invitation to deliver a poem at President Barack Obama's January 2013 inauguration. He offered insights into his path of becoming a poet, beginning from his career as an engineer.

Photo by Westwood Minute/Darlene Wong Cancell. Poet and author Richard Blanco closed out the third and final day of the Children's Poetry Festival with remarks and readings from his memoirs and poems.

"Being a good writer has to do with almost any career you choose. In fact, I would dare to say every career you choose in some way or another," said Blanco. He noted that poetry, like the humanities in general, offers a door to becoming more self-aware, and therefore more successful in life.

Photo courtesy of Nancy Tupper Ling. Event organizer and Westwood Poet Laureate Lynne Viti looks on as Richard Blanco adds his autograph to a copy of "One Today," the inaugural poem he wrote for President Barack Obama, which is published as a children's book, illustrated by Dav Pilkey.

As the town’s first Youth Poet Laureate, Sechler talked about creating this event during her interview for the position.

“I wanted this to be a festival to inspire the next generation of writers,” said Sechler, a senior at WHS. “I’m excited to see the reactions of these students to poetry, as well as seeing what they come up with on their own and how we can workshop that together.”

Photo courtesy of Westwood Public Library. A young participant in the Westwood Children's Poetry Festival writes about a place that is special to him.

Thanks to Westwood Public Library, Darcie Fisher, Katie Sechler, Lynne Viti, and Nancy Tupper Ling for their contributions to this article.

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