What does peace mean to you? That is the question students from kindergarten through eighth grade attempted to answer for this year’s Poetry for Peace celebration. With less than a sentence to an entire page, these poems captured the hearts of the audience.

Poetry for Peace was aimed to teach children that literacy has the power to achieve great things. Dr. Bryan Ripley Crandall, director of the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield and assistant professor of English, discussed this concept earlier in the day at the writing conference that preceded the Poetry for Peace celebration.

Both events were the culmination of all the events giving tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy.

Crandall said this event was important because these students — who were handpicked by their teachers and counselors to attend — are future college students that should be invested in now, but collectively rather than individually.

He said, “My philosophy – ubuntu – means I can be me because of who we are together.”

He explained that “it is not individuality, but the serendipity of us together” that is the most powerful, which was especially evident with the emphasis on Martin Luther King Jr. and the community he built around from his writing and advocacy for a better world.

This theme echoed at the Poetry for Peace celebration later that night where kids got the chance to read their poems for an audience of family, friends and the Fairfield community. The themes varied widely, especially as the students progressed in age, as noted by Morgan Amsrud ’16, who said that the poems got “darker” and “more complex” throughout the evening.

The poems were judged in groups and presented the same way: kindergarten to eighth grade.

Some poems written by the younger kids discussed common themes like books, friends, the snow and the beach.

However, there were more students in the older groups that discussed the darker aspects of peace such as fleeing abuse in a foreign country and remembering lost loved ones.

“Peace is … when you shake hands,” wrote kindergartner  Karena Silencieux.

“Can we make the darkest shadows bright?/Maybe one day we can draw sweet peace from bitter pain,” wrote Jessica Rubel, a sixth grader.

In his poem “Oceans,” seventh grader Malachi Rivera wrote, “The oceans are calm, oceans are relaxing,/ The animals are swimming, no fear among them/ That is why the ocean is peace.”

Brianna Carb, an eighth grader and first prize winner, wrote in her poem “The Beginning of the Rest of my Life,” “New family/Fresh start/Farewell Kenya, Africa/For I have found/Peace and freedom/for now…”

One co-chair of the event, English Professor Dr. Peter Bayers, said this competition is about the students “cultivating their own meaning of what peace means to them,” and they encourage teachers to approach the writing as unstructured to cultivate the students’ creativity.

He said it is remarkable that students can help adults and the audience understand that peace comes in “many forms,” and how their poems can be “simple but profound at the same time.”

The large amount of older students who participated and were honored at the event impressed the judge coordinator — an assistant English professor and poet herself – Carol Ann Davis.

She said that it was “extraordinary” because it is not uncommon for the older students to be less interested in this competition with the different pressures they face.

Sophomore Karyn Ryan attended the event for her English class and thought the “poems for the most part were adorable,” but, “some of them were kind of sad and disturbing.”

“Overall I really liked it,” she said, “and thought that it showed that anyone can be a poet and anything can be a poem.”

Dr. Elizabeth Boquet, co-chair of the event and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, agreed. “I think kids are natural poets,” she said. “They’re so attuned to the world around them, and that is really what poetry is about: noticing concrete details and rendering them in language.”

Boquet spoke about one moment from the Poetry for Peace celebration that stuck with her. She explained seeing a young boy staring at and touching a stack of posters for the event. She told him he could take one, and at the end of the night, she saw him walking out with it.

“We have these kinds of things all over campus all the time, so much so that they’re invisible to us,” Boquet said.  “I appreciated the reminder that we should linger over events like these and share reminders of the times when we come together to celebrate learning and sharing and being together.”

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