Students gathered in clusters around tables, comparing notes on each others’ poetry, commenting on phrases, placement on the page, punctuation.
Standing over them is Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, a former West Springfield High teacher, now the poet laureate of Virginia.
“The students who pass through these halls mean so much to me,” said Kreiter-Foronda, who taught in Fairfax County Public Schools for years before retiring six years ago to turn her full attention to poetry.
Kreiter-Foronda visited a room full of West Springfield students in ninth through 12th grades on Wednesday, Nov. 8 and led a poetry-writing workshop for them, taking time to invite a few students to read their works aloud.
Crediting a mother who read her stories and a father who instilled in her the belief that she could do whatever she wanted, Kreiter-Foronda told the students to embrace all things art to make themselves well-rounded individuals.
“I read rejection letters to learn from them,” she said. “I started painting, because I wanted to learn about it. By trying out all the arts, I’ve learned how they work.”
Talking to the students, Kreiter-Foronda didn’t give them handouts because she felt they should learn to listen carefully, take notes and figure out the important bits of information being told to them on their own.
She urged them to write in their own voice, the way they speak, in order for their poetry and all their writing to take on a more personal tone and individual style.
“I believe we need to let young voices be heard,” Kreiter-Foronda said. “Many people don’t believe the amount of young talent we have in high schools.”
EARLIER IN THE WEEK, Kreiter-Foronda received poetry that the students had written for her workshop courtesy of their English teachers. Foronda selected three of them, all written by seniors, to discuss with the group.
The first one, “Cosmos,” was written by Sam Peck and described the night sky.
First, Kreiter-Foronda asked Sam why he wrote the poem centered on the page, something he said he did without a real reason.
The centered layout provided an insight to the poem’s rhythm, she said, which could be better appreciated when read out loud.
“It’s important to read your poems aloud, it’s important to hear the rhythm and flow of your own words,” Kreiter-Foronda said.
She told Sam she was impressed by the way he worked with his phrasing of words, metering them out in such a way she could hear him taking a pause at the end of each line.
Kreiter-Foronda's second selection, a pair of poems called “Requiem for Untitled” and “Red” by Amelia Colvig, were short pieces strong with assonance and repetition.
“What I liked most about this poem is she comes up with ways to described the color red so it becomes a part of you,” said Kreiter-Foronda, of the second poem. She complimented Amelia and the group as a whole for their understanding and use of repetition, strongly featured in her poetry.
Her third selection was entitled “Poetry to a Teenage Girl” by Hifza Waqar. Kreiter-Foronda said she was drawn to this selection for the attention-grabbing nature of its first few lines, the way it pulled the reader in and made her interested.
“The introduction is a stroke of genius,” Kreiter-Foronda said, as Hifza tried to hide her face, uncomfortable with all the attention. “Her poetry is very musical.”
The three students all said they were happily surprised their submissions were chosen by Kreiter-Foronda to be discussed at large.
Amelia said she planned to use Kreiter-Foronda’s advice on thinking of poetry as a monologue in the future.
“I hadn’t thought of that before,” she said. She added that she first started writing poetry in her creative writing class last year.
“I haven’t done much this year,” Amelia said. “I miss it.”
Sam said it “felt really good” to hear Foronda’s praise of his work.
“It really struck me that she called me a natural poet,” he said. “I’m really happy she liked it.”
Hifza said, despite her shyness, she enjoyed Kreiter-Foronda’s feedback.
“I’d rather have my work read by someone else,” she said. “I like that she gave me points, but I didn’t think the poem was that good. It was just an assignment.”
West Springfield English department chair Kathy Moriarty said the students participating in Kreiter-Foronda’s workshop demonstrated a strong interest in poetry.
“Carolyn’s energy and enthusiasm are just infectious,” Moriarty said. “She’s just amazing. The kids are enthusiastic. The sheer passion for poetry she exudes is great.”
School Board member Cathy Belter (Springfield) also sat in on the workshop and said she enjoyed seeing students so involved in their interests.
“Carolyn’s always been a very good teacher,” Belter said. “I think this is fascinating. It’s excellent to see this group, both male and female, interacting over their poetry.”