Bacon Academy poets named finalists in 'Fresh Voices' competition
By Kevin Hotary - Staff Writer
Colchester - posted Tue., May. 10, 2011
For 18 years, the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington has held the prestigious Fresh Voices Competition for young poets. The competition has been called “a cultural phenomenon” by former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins.
Students from high schools across Connecticut submit their best works in the hope that they will be among the chosen few to read their poems that summer at the museum's yearly Sunken Garden Poetry and Music Festival.
This year, 15 semifinalists, chosen by a panel of professional writers and poets, were selected from a group of 78 students. Among these 15 semifinalists were three students from Bacon Academy: senior Cooper Johnson, and juniors Siarna Kinney and Laura Salvatore.
“We enter students every year. This is the second year in a row that we’ve had three [semi]finalists,” said English teacher John Stanizzi, who mentors and guides the students through the entry process.
To reach this point, the students submit up to 10 original poems, from which the judges choose the semifinalists based on the overall quality of the entire manuscript. The semifinalists then read chosen works before a panel of judges and a live audience at the museum, and four finalists are chosen from that group to be the “opening voices” at the festival, reading their poems before author, performance artist and award-winning poet Patricia Smith. Smith has also been the featured poet on HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam,” and is a four-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam.
“I’m really excited. It’s nice to get this far,” said Johnson on the day of the reading at the museum. He said that he has only been writing poetry for about a year, so to make it this far is already quite an honor.
In contrast, Kinney said, “I have been writing poetry since I was in first grade.” She entered last year’s competition and was not chosen, so to be selected as a semifinalist this year with a new portfolio of poems “is very nice. It’s wonderful,” she said. And the prospect of reading some of those poems in front of 8,000 to 10,000 people at the festival “would be unbelievable,” she added.
“To have gotten this far is really exciting. It’s nerve-wracking,” said Salvatore, who was also one of last year’s three semifinalists from Bacon Academy.
“I’m not as nervous because I know what to expect. But it’s still a little overwhelming,” she said. Knowing the day that the semifinalists were to be announced, Salvatore said that she went to Stanizzi after every class and asked, “Did you find out yet?”
Last week, Stanizzi received news that he termed “unprecedented” – of the four winners chosen to be this year’s “Fresh Voices,” and to read their works at the Sunken Garden Festival, two were from Bacon Academy. On July 20, both Siarna Kinney and Laura Salvatore will read their poetry on the stage that over the years has featured a number of nationally- and internationally-acclaimed poets, opening the evening’s events for an audience of thousands.