BELFAST, Maine — When Nancy Burnham was growing up in Waldo County in the 1960s, there was no poetry tradition in the community.
But all that has changed, said the manager of the Belfast Mr. Paperback bookstore.
“My God, it’s poetry central now, it really is. Poetry is everywhere,” she said Thursday evening after the 11th annual anointing of the Waldo County Young Poet Laureate at her store.
Burnham was one of the founders of the event, and Searsport District High School was “primarily involved” at the beginning. Since then, word has spread throughout the county.
“I think poetry is really healthy for kids,” she said. “At that age, you really feel things so intensely.”
Participating young people strode to the podium in the standing-room-only bookstore and read their poetry to an appreciative crowd made up of parents and poetry fans. The poets bared their hearts through poetry about broken hearts, teen parenthood and divorcing parents. Some made the audience laugh, with poems about pro-crastination and parents. Others nearly made people cry, as did one young man who wrote about the suicide of his stepbrother. They also wrote about the magic in nature, worries about war and questions about the future.
Their topics were as universal as their poems were specific, said Belfast poet and judge Karin Spitfire, who nodded with enjoyment and empathy while the youngsters read their poems.
“All these things kids are writing about — death, isolation, sex, foxes, nature, gulls — it’s all part of human expression,” she said. “How do you say it? How do you get there?”
After the students read through their works — some with small and shaky voices, others with dramatic expressiveness — the 2010 young poet laureate was named.
Genevieve Shepard, 16, of Stockton Springs jumped up to receive her prizes: poetry books and a cape made of Bubble Wrap.
“I’m so happy,” she said. “I like Bubble Wrap, so this is pretty awesome.”
Genevieve, whose poems featured vivid imagery and an obvious love of words, said she was “really surprised” to be chosen.
“I love to sit for hours and just express myself,” she said.
Third runner-up was Ariel Durkee of Belfast Area High School, second runner-up was Sophie Veilleux of Mount View High School in Thorndike, and Tim French of Searsport District High School. The first-ever Bern Porter Award, for the poet who reminded judges of Porter’s creative spirit, went to Searsport District High School student Lucas Bolduc.
Porter was part of the American avant-garde movement in the 20th century and a well-known Belfast resident until his death in 2004.
“We thought it would be nice to honor him,” said judge, Belfast native and poet Gary Lawless.
Last year’s young poet laureate, Hila Shooter, 15, of Monroe, said she wasn’t too sad to pass on the title to another poet.
“Poetry’s awesome,” she said.
From “Making the First Step,” by 2010 Waldo County Young Poet Laureate Genevieve Shepard.
The year was 1969.
Landing on marshmallow top soil,
you disturbed history for the first time,
with your thick rubber space boots.
Leaving traces of lost ambitions,
and gained achievements
in the shape of a skewed footprint.
Your eyes reflected generously
off millions of captured dust particles,
an array of beautiful star-lit crystals,
waltzing to their overplayed anthem of gravity.