Teenagers put poetry in motion on global stage

Public school students are off to the Adelaide Writers Festival to contest the title of International High School Poet. Linda Doherty reports.

Students and a teacher standing in front of a large sign. Students and a teacher standing in front of a large sign.
Image: Students and teachers at Bonnyrigg High School today, leaving for their creative excursion to the Adelaide Writers Festival.

Teenage wordsmiths will put poetry in motion when they slam for the title of International High School Poet as part of a global exchange program founded by US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy.

Fourteen NSW public school students will slam with teen poets from the United States and South Korea they have met virtually through the International Poetry Exchange Program, which connects young people through the power of the spoken word.

The US Mission is funding all the students for a trip of a lifetime to the Adelaide Writers Festival where they will also attend writing workshops and participate in Create4Adelaide, a project for young people to respond creatively to climate change.

Ten students from Bonnyrigg High School in south-western Sydney leave today for the festival and four more regional students from the virtual school, Aurora College, depart on Monday.

They will hang out and slam with students from Marble Hill High School in the Bronx, New York, and students from Poongsan High School in Andong, South Korea.

Year 12 Bonnyrigg High student Giana Scicluna said the opportunity to write and compete in the teen poetry slam – and spend time with “someone as respected and innovative as Ambassador Kennedy” – was beyond her imagination.

“I’m so grateful that Ambassador Kennedy and everyone else involved has made the generous effort to get us all together in Adelaide and provided the inspirational opportunity for young minds to rise to this occasion,” Giana said.

Liesel Malanos, in Year 11, said the competition would be fierce.

“As we take to the world stage at the International Teen Poetry Slam, we can only hope that Australia will come out victorious against all these fabulous and creative young writers,” she said.

The International Poetry Exchange Program was created by Ms Kennedy in 2017, in partnership with DreamYard Project, when she was Ambassador to Japan.

The program initially linked students in the Bronx with Japanese students who met virtually to read, perform and share their love of poetry, but has since expanded to South Korea, the Philippines and Australia.

Bonnyrigg High and Aurora College are the only Australian schools in the International Poetry Exchange Program. Ms Kennedy has twice visited Bonnyrigg High School, which has a lunchtime poetry club and an impressive catalogue of student anthologies.

Bonnyrigg High deputy principal Geremy Crithary said it was an incredible experience for his students and English teachers Brendon Ly and Jennifer Foster, who will travel with them.

"Bonnyrigg High School has always been proud to champion the success and diversity of our students’ voices,” he said.

“Brenton Ly creates an inviting atmosphere for the poetry club every lunch time to encourage our students to appreciate the words of Percy Shelley as well as Taylor Swift.

“We hope that one day our students’ work sits within the pantheon of poets and is appreciated by other high school students everywhere.”

The Bonnyrigg High contingent is Year 12 students Giana Scicluna and Jeffy Scaria, Year 11 students Liesel Malanos, Ann Thien Nguyen, Suda Thiamsanga, Annabel Lim, Sara Chiem, Mariam Adam and Tony Lam, and Year 10 student Mary Pwtrus.

The Aurora College students attend virtual English lessons at the academically selective school from their home schools in regional NSW. Aurora College will be represented by Year 10 students Eva Wood-McGuire (Taree High School), Bethany Owens-Roberts (Narooma High), Chloe Ward (Bowral High) and Anna Woodlands (Leeton High).

Aurora College principal Chris Robertson said his students joined the International Poetry Exchange Program last year.

“Once a month, students in this program meet with international students via Zoom to share original poetry and engage in social and cultural exchange,” he said.

“It is certainly a valuable and enjoyable experience for our students.”

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