ACLC Poets Celebrate the Written Word

Julia Park Tracey The Mighty Pens of Alameda Community Learning Center, with advisers Cathy Dana and Cat Crawford

Alameda Community Learning Center (ACLC) learners love their poetry. They love it so much they have selected poets laureate from among the learners — this year’s are Ellie Dodds and Sophia Moore, juniors at ACLC. They’re both members of Poetry Club, which meets on Fridays.

The after-school club was founded four years ago and includes facilitators (teachers) Cat Crawford and Cathy Dana; seniors Catherine George and Poet Laureate Emeritus Morgan Reichert; eighth grader Truly Edison, and seventh graders Josie Whittock and Aoife Grable. They gather in a classroom at ACLC after the last bell rings before the weekend to share new work and hear their fellow poets read.

These young writers are the Mighty Pens, led by creative writing facilitator and poet Dana, who is also president of the Alameda Island Poets. Dana has worked with ACLC youth to encourage them to read at open mics and festivals. The Mighty Pens have read poetry onstage at the Dancing Poetry Festival several times in Alameda and San Francisco.

Dodds doesn’t hold back when she speaks about her love for the craft: "I really love poetry. I grew up reading Shel Silverstein. My dad would read aloud to us on road trips on the way to Ohio."

Moore also had early exposure to poetry from her parents. "My dad just showed me e.e.cummings," she said, and she is a big fan of Emily Dickinson’s work. She’s been experimenting with spoken word poetry, "with poems that have a lot more to do with delivery than with words on the page.

"Poetry is underrated and misconstrued," said Moore. "I want to change that. My favorite part of being poet laureate is bringing other people into it."

Both poets have discovered some of the trials and tribulations that plague writers. "It’s really hard to write poetry when I want to," said Dodds. She tries to "grab it when I can."

Catherine George was the editor of this year’s student publication, and although it’s her first year in Poetry Club, she’s a senior and was ready to take on the job. "I didn’t used to like poetry because I thought it had to rhyme," she admitted. But after immersing herself in the written word, "I love poetry so much. It’s interesting to read other people’s poetry. So many other people, (even) middle schoolers are really good writers." It felt like a privilege to read their work, George said.

The Mighty Pens are featured readers next week for the Wednesday, May 6, Alameda Island Poets’ Reading Series. The teens will read from their fourth annual collection of student poetry, Wandering Minds, Dancing Words, on sale for $3 a copy. The ACLC Poets Laureate will also read. The reading is from 7 to 9 p.m. at Frank Bette Center for the Arts, 1601 Paru St. Open reading follows features. Free/voluntary donation. The site is wheelchair accessible.

Julia Park Tracey, Alameda’s poet laureate, wrote this series of articles during April’s National Poetry Month to illustrate why poetry matters today. Contact her at julia.editrix@gmail.com or find her online at www.juliaparktracey.com.