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Sharpen your quill at poetry boot camp

Aspiring writers as well as those practiced in the craft will have an opportunity to sharpen their quills on Nov. 2, when Baltimore based poet and educator Shirley Brewer conducts a poetry workshop at the Finksburg branch of the Carroll County Public Library.

The workshop, entitled "Unleash Your Creativity: A Poetry Boot Camp," is free, suitable for ages 11 through adults and will feature exercises for stimulating creativity and advice on publishing from Brewer, author of the chapbook, "A little breast music."

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"I'll talk about the elements of poetry, my own poetic journey and a bit on how to publish," Brewer said. "We'll do some writing exercises and read a couple of poems and I have a couple of door prizes ... I tailor it to whoever is there, so if people are more into doing writing exercises, I'll do more of that, but if they want to ask more questions about getting published, we'll go that way."

No registration is required for this free event that will run from 2 p.m. until 3 p.m., though Brewer said that bringing a notepad and pen or pencil is encouraged.

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According to Bryan Hissong, branch manager of the Finksburg branch of the Carroll County Public Library, the event was scheduled to coincide with the Teens Create contest for middle school and high school students.

Teens Create is a library-wide program that will accept poetry submissions in addition to short stories, films, nonfiction, and graphic novels, and Hissong said the hope is that it will kindle an interest in creative writing, especially poetry.

"Poetry, I think, is often overlooked ... and we would like to bring it back. We like to encourage teens to write poetry to express themselves [but] it doesn't seem to be a popular thing in Carroll County," Hissong said. "The hot things that folks seem to be interested in at our branch are self publishing, writing a novel and being the next 'Twilight.'"

Beth Daum is an English teacher at Westminster high School and faculty adviser for the school's literary magazine, Quintessence, for the past 15 years. She said that while there are generally many student submissions to the magazine, she has also noticed some of the trends Hissong observed.

"Kids who write, fall into two categories: It is about self expression, teen angst and such, or it's about 'how can I turn this writing into something that will make me money?' and that is just a reflection of American culture," Daum said. "Every kid wants to be J.K. Rowling ... especially with her story of being a single mom on welfare and now she's like billionaire."

John Holt, an English teacher at Winters Mill High School who coordinates the annual National Council of English Teacher's writing competition, said that in contrast to the experience his colleague at Westminster, he has seen a dramatic decrease in student participation in that contest in recent years.

"I currently have over 60 juniors in my Advanced Placement Language and Composition classes," Holt said. "I reminded kids every day for about two weeks about getting me their names for consideration. Out of [more than] 60 kids, I heard back from one. I'm not sure how much of this is a lack of interest in creative writing or a lack of initiative."

Holt said that with the county's implementation of the new Common Core curriculum standards, which he said moves away from the study of poems as primary texts, he's afraid students may lose a valuable opportunity.

"Because it is the most concentrated form of literature, poetry can teach kids all kinds of things about precision of diction, selection of detail, organization, working within stringent parameters," Holt said. "Studying poetry can give kids practice in problem-solving, persistence, creativity, and critical thinking/life skills."

Angie Knight is the adult services supervisor at the Eldersburg branch of the Carroll County Public Library, but was involved in the Teens Create contest as well as scheduling Brewer's upcoming workshop. She said the library aims to provide additional resources to students and the community in the face of changing curricula and an evolving public perception of poetry.

"We hope that through these workshops and other writing programs we are doing that we empower our teens' voices," Knight said. "I'm hoping that if kids don't have the opportunity to write poems in school that [the Teens Create] contest will give them a chance to be heard and that workshops like Shirley's will maybe fill a void," Knight said.

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