Poetry Month: Meet Scholastic Art & Writing Awards winners Elizabeth Lee and Hailee Cook

It's National Poetry Month and we want to introduce you to some very talented teen poets.

This year's 2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards recognized 16 high school seniors who received the program’s highest national honor, the Gold Medal Portfolio, which includes a $10,000 scholarship.

Throughout April, we will showcase poems from this year's writing portfolio winners. This week, we are celebrating the work of Elizabeth Lee, age 18 (Boise, ID) and Hailee Cook, age 18 (Las Cruces, NM).

What inspires you to write?

Elizabeth Lee: My curiosity drives my writing. I find inspiration in the details--ordinary situations spur a commotion of what-ifs that I just have to explore. Sometimes, they come from simple anecdotes, like when my economics teacher described his experience in LA during the Rodney King riots and I wondered what it was like to be one of those store owners guarding their shops, worried about their livelihood. At first, I tend to write for myself, just to discover the possible pathways; then, as it evolves, the piece becomes a larger message. I think that’s the real fascination of writing, that from something so spontaneous you can end up with something so meaningful and so wonderfully different than what you first set out to create.

Hailee Cook: I am inspired by life and everything that encompasses—there’s always a story to be told, an emotion to be shared, a memory to be written down.

What do you enjoy most about writing poetry?

Elizabeth Lee: I love the openness of free verse; it allows me to experiment with narration and voice. I’ve realized that a lot of my poems have backstories to them--they’re basically flash fiction in a different format. With poetry, though, I don’t have to focus on plot or character development; instead, I can depict a tiny fragment of time, relaying characters and settings only as they appear at one moment, which is how we tend to perceive passersby--the supporting characters within our own lives. We don’t get the whole life story; we get a glimpse, and poetry allows me to hone in on that glimpse with more precision.

Hailee Cook: What I enjoy most about poetry is how impactful it can be in a short amount of words.

Is there a poet, a writer or another creative individual whose work has inspired the way you think about art and writing?

Elizabeth Lee: Growing up, Jerry Spinelli was a big icon for me. I loved how he shows the effects that social interactions have on people, whether in the form of friendships or outcasts. He has a natural way of illustrating very specific, idiosyncratic personalities that go against the grain and give texture to his plots. His books taught me to look at conversation and see how the dialogue, both explicit and implicit, adds to the significance of the story.

Hailee Cook: The way I think about writing is the result of a short lifetime’s worth of fleeting advice from passersby.

What advice do you have for new poets and writers or people who want to start writing?

Elizabeth Lee: Just write. Sometimes I take out a piece of paper and just start inking out words; maybe I don’t like the writing that I first set down, but it always ends up giving me new ideas and inspiration for where to start next. It’s difficult to decide what to write and how to write it, so just skip to the next step, the actual writing, and toy around with it for a bit. There’s no beginning to writing; there’s just writing.

Hailee Cook: My advice to new writers, or people who want to start writing, is to just write. Write as much as you can and always look for new inspiration. You don’t need anything fancy or any training, just yourself and your own words.

Also, you can learn a lot by reading tons of different works from various authors. Exposing yourself to varying techniques and styles can really help you constantly improve and perfect your own unique style.

 Why is it important to celebrate National Poetry Month?

Elizabeth Lee: National Poetry Month is a way of honoring literary contributors, accentuating the importance of poetry, and inspiring the next generation of poets. It’s a cultural celebration, a reminder that poetry and other forms of literature are a part of our identity, too. The most important feature of National Poetry Month, though, is its effect on new authors, celebrating and supporting aspiring young writers who will continue to preserve literary art forms in the future.

Hailee Cook: It’s important to celebrate National Poetry Month because it’s important to make poetry more visible in our lives and show people how accessible it can be for anyone.

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Gold Straw Hair by Elizabeth Lee

 

Grass gripped between her fingers

Like the luxurious folds of a duvet cover

Sunlight, dulcet and musical, the color of a Beethoven sonata.

 

What is one more day?

 

She is somnolent. She is lazy. She is brave, only today she has a headache

As Carroll would say.

Idly twining grass with grass, imagining them as fingers,

The feel of soft and supple against steady, calloused--

What would it be, she wonders, if the whistler whistled for me?

 

For it is not Beethoven, only an old folk tune

And her hair, luscious gold straw, is the color of burnt almonds, scraggly and brittle.

But she smooths out her white taffeta dress, the old blue calico

that has been patched three times too many at the elbows,

And dreams.

 

Stuck in a quandary: hopefulness and disinclination living like parasites

Upon her elegant shoulders.

Do something, she tells herself, get up and work

And maybe he will fall for you the way he fell for that girl,

The one with gold straw hair and pretty dresses who likes to help him stack hay--

 

No.

I do not have gold straw hair, she declares.

 

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Marigolds by Hailee Cook

She climbed in the coffin

And laid down beside him.

And though her glassy eyes

Had already shattered,

She looked

Not up to the crying sky

But to his face

That had never before

Been so free from distress.

 

Lovers.

Whose names

Were never in the stars at all.

Broken hearts.

Shattered strawberry glass

On porcelain tile floors.

 

Under the bruised sky

She was buried with him—

Seeds in her skin

Growing grass

Beneath clouds that look

Like memories

I'm beginning to forget.

Growing flowers

Next to tombstones.

The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers