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More than rhymes, haiku Poet in residence: AACC English professor helps youngster appreciate and write poems.


Donald Richardson is a man of many roles.

Not only is he an English professor at Anne Arundel Community College and a faculty adviser for the college newspaper, he is also a poet in residence for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at St. Jane Frances School in Riviera Beach.

For the past week, Mr. Richardson, 50, has taught the youngsters different forms and components of poetry -- that it is more than rhyme schemes and haiku. Today, the students will honor the Pasadena resident with a reading of their works.

The experience at St. Jane Frances has been a welcome one for Mr. Richardson, who came to the school through a Maryland State Arts Council grant of about $1,000.

"It's refreshing," he said. "There's so much energy from these kids."

Yesterday morning exemplified the students' exuberance. A 50-minute session of Stacey White's seventh-grade English class became a free-for-all of poetry reading. Most of the 28 students voluntarily read aloud poems written the previous night.

Karen Pember, 12, of Pasadena offered a selection she called "Emptiness":

"When I saw the

old dark house

right then I knew

it was where

trouble came from

just welcoming you

into its little trap."

Lauren Hammond, 11, of Severna Park said in "Wind":

"I grasp and nothing is there

The wind feels like a cloud that is empty."

Afterward, she said the poetry "helps me get my feelings out. It's like putting your personality on paper."

Mr. Richardson views his residency as an attempt to keep children involved with poetry. He said most teen-agers lose interest in poetry because it isn't "cool."

"People put it aside and think it is superfluous," he said. "They think it doesn't have anything to do with life, but poetry is life."

Mia DiBene, 12, of Riviera Beach said poetry gives her a chance to dream.

"I like romantic stuff," Mia said. "I like visualizing islands and being out on my own with someone I adore."

Anyone can be a poet, said Candace Larkin, 11, of Pasadena. "All you need is an imagination," she said. "Just let it flow."

Pupils such as Candace make Mr. Richardson believe some of the great poets of the future are just a few months shy of their 13th birthdays. He even read some of their poems during a reading at Louie's Book Store Cafe in Baltimore. The response was tremendous, he said.

"The imagery these kids have is so vivid," said Mr. Richardson, who has been poet-in-residence for 12 schools in two years. "They have no inhibitions, and they're not worried about looking cool."

In his four sessions with the children, Mr. Richardson stressed the need for telling details.

"Poetry makes sense if you use your senses," he said. "Every great poem has a picture in it -- something real, something to see. The whole point of my workshop is to get them to see and make the picture in a poem."

Renee Hammond, assistant principal, made Mr. Richardson's week at St. Jane Frances possible. Two months ago she asked the arts council for an artist.

"I think it's important for students that they concentrate on their writing skills," Ms. Hammond said. "Today, everybody is more geared to video and television. Poetry is one way children can be creative without TV."

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