Students to read their works in Peace Poetry Contest

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.Alachua County students of all ages will read poems celebrating peace at a poetry reading Saturday, hosted by the Gainesville chapter of Veterans for Peace.

Out of 283 submissions, 30 students were selected to present their winning poems at the free public reading at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville, at 4225 NW 34th St., from 2 to 4 p.m.

Now in its eighth year, the Veterans for Peace poetry contest encourages students to define what peace means to them, said Sheila Payne, contest coordinator at Veterans for Peace.

“We hope to change the narrative around war,” she said. “It starts our conversation in a sweet way.”

Students from public, private and charter schools in Alachua County entered the contest in January. Four local writers and poets judged the submissions, and the winning poems will be published in a book provided to audience members, she said.

Winners will receive a bookstore gift card, framed certificate and several copies of the poetry book. Following the reading, guests can enjoy finger food including Payne’s desserts as well as entertainment by local musician Cathy DeWitt, she said.The organization also will award three $500 scholarships at the event to graduating high school, college or graduate students committed to social change, Payne said.

Paul Ortiz, scholarship coordinator and veteran, said the scholarships are designed to help students attend college without entering the armed forces.

“My only way to college was through the military,” he said. “I was brought up believing that if you had a serious problem, you went to war.”

 He said the poetry contest and scholarship enforce the idea that “there are different ways to solving problems.”

“We want to create an educational culture where students are rewarded for writing about peaceful ways to get along,” he said.

Lynne Bramlett, a 12th-grade English teacher at Buchholz High School, said 55 of her students submitted poems this year, with several earning high honors and one second-place winner.

She teaches literature dealing with war trauma, so the poetry contest falls right in line with the curriculum, she said.

“I think it’s important that we recognize the sacrifices veterans have made, and find tolerance and peace in a world where misunderstanding can lead to bitter consequences,” she said.

Payne said nearly every poem she reads is a winner in her eyes, whether it was written by a 5-year-old or a graduating high school senior.

“Our hope is that students, even if just for five minutes, contemplate what peace means to them,” she said.

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