Through the art of poetry, “seeds of creativity” were planted in a children’s pilot poetry group in the West Valley.
Primary Poets, sponsored by the nonprofit organization Arizona State Poetry Society (ASPS), consisted of students ages 5 to 12 from West Valley school districts.
Coordinator and former teacher Karen Márquez Morales taught the children the art and its valuable skills via Zoom over the course of two months, concluding with a performance earlier this year — just in time for Poetry Month in April.
“I felt like I made a tiny difference in how they see the world and was able to give them a tool of creativity that they may use to enrich their daily lives,” Morales said. “As always, I learned a lot about myself from them as well. I learned that there is so much good left in the world and that kids are resilient even after a pandemic. Which in turn makes me more resilient and inspired, too.”
The Primary Poets group was born due to ASPS’s desire to further its mission of promoting the art of poetry through a youth engagement program, to which Morales decided to gear toward elementary school-age children.
The group consisted of 14 students from the Pendergast, Peoria, Avondale, Litchfield and Phoenix elementary school districts, many of whom did not have any previous experience with poetry.
Morales taught each of them how to write different styles of poems from samples, a variety of performance strategies and opportunities to practice reading in front of audiences.
The poems they created were all different, ranging from haikus to freestyles, and told stories about what the color pink reminds them of, the realities of middle school, and how we are all “seen” and never alone.
“They all went to different schools; that was really hard,” Morales said. “We didn’t meet each other until the night (of the performance). Luckily, they all meshed together and they helped each other.”
To showcase their poems and the skills they had developed by the end of the course, the group held a performance in late January in the children’s program room at the Georgia T. Lloyd Library in Goodyear.
The overall theme of the night was inspired by a Michael Jackson quote, in which he said, “The magic, the wonder, the mystery and the innocence of a child’s heart are the seeds of creativity that will heal the world.”
With the room full of family, friends and community members, the children read their pieces at a poetry stand laced with lights on a glitter-strewn red carpet.
To enhance their readings, some students even brought props, like one girl who had a mint plant to accompany her poem, titled “Green.”
Many of the children had their poems memorized to help their fear of performing in front of an audience.
“I had some kids who would lisp or who stuttered or who were really shy,” Morales said. “And they got up there in front of everybody, and they did it.”
Afterward, the group retreated to the courtyard to autograph their Primary Poets Anthology, which their coordinator had designed for them to sign for attendees.
“All of the children did a wonderful job, and it turned out to be a magical night,” Morales said.
ASPS’s Youth Poetry Contest
The Primary Poets participants had their work entered in the 2023 Youth Poetry Contest, a statewide competition hosted by the ASPS to celebrate Poetry Month.
The contest is open to all first through 12th grade Arizona students, who will compete in three different brackets organized by grade level.
Poems can cover any topic and must be submitted by the deadline on April 30. There is no entry fee. Submissions will be judged by a panel of individuals outside of the ASPS to maintain validity.
First- through third-place winners of each bracket will receive cash prizes up to $50 and have their poems published in the ASPS Sandcutters Anthology.
Winning pieces will be announced by the end of May.
As of mid-March, there were over 150 poems submitted in the competition alongside those of Morales’ students.
A Phoenix native and the author of “The Krayon Kids” book series, Morales taught second grade in Avondale for 30 years before retiring from education in 2014.
She recalled teaching her students poetry decades ago, and even entering their work in ASPS’s poetry contest.
The coordinator said that poetry is a great way for students to learn how to read and write, as well as beneficial for building creativity, self-expression, and memorization and recall skills.
For younger children, in particular, she maintains that it’s “where the journey begins.”
However, in her experience, poetry is not something widely covered in curriculum today and is rather a topic taught for a single school day.
“Students these days, especially during the pandemic, never get a chance to get up and perform. At that age, it is so important to be articulate,” Morales said. “I tried to teach them so we can help them in reading, articulation, learning another language and memorization — it’s great for your brain. A lot of that isn’t happening in the schools.
“I just wanted to show (the children) that this is something important, something they can learn from and something they can teach others as well. So I learned a lot from that.”
Submissions for the Arizona State Poetry Society’s 2023 Youth Poetry Contest must be in by the Thursday, April 30, deadline. There is no entry fee.
For the contest application, rules and guidelines, and more information about Primary Poets and the Arizona State Poetry Society, visit azpoetry.net.