Student Poets Honored at Merriconeag Poetry Festival

Edward Little High School senior Barrak Abdraba earned the top prize at the Tenth Annual Merriconeag Poetry Festival, held Sunday, April 30 at Maine Coast Waldorf School in Freeport.  Abdraba, born in Iraq, wrote a poem entitled “A Message” that contained Arabic phrases as well as English, describing an immigrant family’s heartbreaking separation.   Second place went to Waynflete eleventh grader Riley Mayes for her poem “Across the Street,” and third place to Colby Santana, a sophomore at Greely High School, for “She and I.”

The prizewinners were among twenty poets selected by co-judges and award-winning Maine poets Lee Sharkey and Linda Aldrich to read their work at the Festival, which was attended by over 120 poetry lovers.  The other finalists, in no particular order, were: from Falmouth High School, Althea Finch-Brand, Ayden Henson, Elizabeth Seeker, and Jacob Seeker; from Edward Little High School, Nasro Adow; from Maine Coast Waldorf School, Cassandra Albano, Finn Dierks-Brown, Emma Goldberg-Courtney, Wilson Haims, Isabel Konstantino, Fiona Libby, and Ava Teegarden; from Deering High School, Arlo Farr-Weinfeld; from Chop Point School, Ellie Pitot;; from Cape Elizabeth High School, Raina Sparks; from Gorham High School, Samuella Spurr; and from North Yarmouth Academy, Cameron Woods. For Arlo Farr-Weinfeld, Althea Finch-Brand, Cassandra Albano and Riley Mayes, this is the second year that they have earned finalist honors.

During the Festival, winning poets heard from judge Linda Aldrich speak about “A Place for the Genuine.” She ended by speaking directly to the student-poets themselves, exhorting them to continue refining their own authentic voices.

“Young poets especially are open to the genuine in themselves and are within a window of time, where their expression, though sometimes raw and unfettered, is fresh, original and unique.  The task is to carry that innocent momentum forward into life, resisting the impulse to close up and go narrow, but remaining open to the developing creative impulse and holding strong to the importance of speaking out about how they see and feel things.”

Students then read their winning poems, received a booklet comprised of all the finalists’ pieces, and received as well as a gift certificate provided by a local bookstore: Longfellow Books in Portland, Gulf of Maine in Brunswick, and Sherman’s in Freeport.

The top prize-winners have had their poems printed on a large poster that will be distributed to the nearly fifty public and private high schools whose students were invited to submit work.

Judges Lee Sharkey and Linda Aldrich selected the finalists in a “blind” process; submissions had no identifying names or school affiliations attached, only each poem’s title.

Lee Sharkey’s Walking Backwards recently appeared from Tupelo Press. Her earlier collections include Calendars of Fire (Tupelo, 2013) and A Darker, Sweeter String (Off the Grid, 2008).  Her work has been published in numerous journals, including Crazyhorse, FIELD, Kenyon Review, and The Massachusetts Review. She is the recipient the Maine Arts Commission’s Fellowship in Literary Arts, the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance’s Distinguished Achievement Award, and the RHINO Editor’s Prize. She serves as Senior Editor of the Beloit Poetry Journal.

Linda Aldrich has published two collections of poetry, Foothold (2008) and March and Mad Women (2012), was a recent finalist for the Maine Literary Award in Poetry 2016, and was awarded the Emily Dickinson Award for Poetry from Universities West Press.   She has published poems in Denver Quarterly, Third Coast, Poet Lore, Cimarron Review, The Snake Nation Review, Ilanot Review, and the Maine Arts Journal, among others.  Linda received an MFA in poetry from Vermont College. She teaches English at Southern Maine Community College and is Managing Editor of the prestigious Beloit Poetry Journal.

In photo above (l t0 r): Back Row: Jacob Seeker, Barrak Abdraba, Cameron Woods, Samuella Spurr, Colby Santana, Ayden Henson, Ellie Pitot, Cassandra Albano, Fiona Libby, Riley Mayes. Front Row: Elizabeth Seeker, Althea Finch-Brand, Isabel Konstantino, Finn Dierks-Brown, Ava Teegarden, Nasro Adow, Raina Sparks, Arlo Farr-Weinfeld

Festival winners Barrak Abdraba, Colby Santana, and Riley Mayes with judge Linda Aldrich.