High School North yesterday hosted a mini poetry festival, the first of its kind for the district, and the secondary-level kickoff to Toms River’s 2019 NEA Big Read program.
The festival was arranged by High School ELA Supervisor and Big Read Co-Director Tonya Rivera, with help from Intermediate ELA Supervisor and Big Read Co-Director Christy Downs. The event was conducted in partnership with the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, which helped supply a cohort of professional poets who performed, led activities, and mentored students-- from High School North, High School South, High School East, and Intermediate North-- throughout the day.
Three assemblies during periods 3 and 4 featured a diverse range of performing poets touching on topics such as identity, culture, race, gender, trauma, love, war, and PTSD. In line with NEA Big Read, which this year is centered on the Vietnam War novel The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, poets Jenny Pacanowski and Eli Wright represented Warrior Writers, an organization whose members write and share poems based on their experiences at war.
A Q&A followed the performances. After the assemblies, the festival moved to breakout sessions where smaller groups of students were able to dialogue and spend time with the poets.
The day concluded with the poets visiting additional classrooms to read poetry and meet with even more students.
In addition to Pacanowski and Wright, the event featured poets Khalil Murrell, Dr. Grisel Acosta, Marina Carreira, and John McDermott.
The poetry festival served as the second event of this year’s NEA Big Read, following the kickoff event at East Dover Jan. 23. Next up is a public book discussion of The Things They Carried at Ocean County Library, 6:30 p.m. Feb. 19. For a full list of events, check out this year’s NEA Big Read calendar.