The seven-stanza poem focuses on the emotional struggle the author faced immediately after the World Trade Center attacks. Her friend's father died in New York City as a result of the tragedy, and the experience brought an uninvited awareness of the world around her, Chasmer said.
"My teacher babbled on about nouns and prepositions," Chasmer writes in the beginning of her poem. She then says:
As the world was changing/
in a city five minutes from my home/
The wall phone rang/
her voice changed/
there was real concern/
An assembly was called and parents arrived early/
As the world was changing/
in a city five minutes from my home.
Chasmer, a student at Immaculate Conception School in Secaucus, entered the contest unsure if she would receive even an honorable mention out of the more than 800 entries countywide. After she wrote the poem, her mother Susan was impressed.
"She wanted to be involved in the poetry contest," Chasmer's mother said. "I remember when she started writing it, the words began to flow."
In mid-February Chasmer, along with 39 other young adolescents from every town in Hudson County, received a call from contest organizer Lucio Fernandez. As the co-artistic director of the Grace Theater in Union City and co-host of a Weehawken-based local access television show, "Ensalada," Fernandez and his partner Megan Smith wanted to tap into the creative minds of county children through a poetry contest.
In January, Fernandez had sent out notices of the contest to the local media and to all the principals from every school in the county.
"The response was overwhelming," Fernandez said. "It was gratifying to see how serious and excited many children were about the contest."
Chasmer was excited about the contest, she said. On March 1, when she went to the Grace Theater with the other semi-finalists, she was nervous.
"I didn't know if I would forget my lines or what," Chasmer said. "This was a big moment for me and all the other contestants."
After the kids read their poems, a judging committee of educators, school administrators and artists chose the top 10 finalists and eventually the top three winners.
"When they began to announce the winners and I didn't hear my name right away, I knew I didn't win," Chasmer said.
Eventually, after much suspense, Fernandez announced the winner. Chasmer was shocked. The cool and charismatic pre-teen did not know how to react.
"Winning the contest was a great moment for me," she said. "I am extremely happy."
Winning second place was Weehawken resident Lynette Rodriguez, 12. Juan Melgar, 13, from Union City won third place.
Rodriguez' poem, titled "Seasons," was about the changing seasons in a year.
"Spring. When the world is caring with a warm smile to brighten your day," Rodriguez wrote in her poem.
Melgar's "America" poem was in Spanish and it also focused on the Sept. 11 attacks. Melgar wrote: "Este pais me ha dado muchas cosas y me a hecho feliz, tantas cosas buenas que no puedo describir [This country has given me many things and has made me happy, so many good things that I cannot describe]."
The top three winners received a small cash prize and were featured on the cable show "Ensalada." The top 40 poems were published in a small book put together by Fernandez, "Wonders: Hudson County Kids' Poetry 2002."
The book was distributed to the 40 finalists in the contest, and can be purchased for $5 at the Grace Theater. The money raised from the book will be used to fund future events, Fernandez said.
"Receiving all these poems was very moving," he said. "It shows the sensitivity of our children and their necessity to express those feelings."
In addition to the poetry contest, the Grace Theater conducts performing arts workshops Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.; 4 p.m.; and Fridays from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. For more information on the theater, visit their web site at www.abiotv.com or call (201) 864-7149. The winning poem: 'Five Minutes from My Home'
My teacher babbled on about nouns and prepositions,
As the world was changing, in a city five minutes from my home.
The wall phone rang, her voice changed, there was real concern.
An assembly was called and parents arrived early,
As the world was changing in a city five minutes from my home.
I waited and wondered, were my parents all right?
My mom walked in, normally solid as a rock, but not now.
We hugged; we talked, and then drove down to the river
To see the city five minutes from my home.
People were gathered; silence filled the air.
Smoke rose up from the emptiness in the landscape
In the city, five minutes from my home.
Is this what my future holds?
Smoke and destruction?
Tears are now dried, lives are moving on.
The world has changed.
But the empty spot still remains in the landscape,
In the city, five minutes from my home. - Jaimee Chasmer, 12