In 1970, the editors at Read,
an award-winning language arts magazine for middle and high school students that is distributed to English, reading and social studies classes across the United States, received a strange letter from a teenage girl in Black River Falls, Wis. The letter said: "Dear People, What do you make of these? If something, contact me. If nothing, return to the owner. Something, I hope - for that's what they're for - I think." The letter was signed A. Arlys Bowler and included several poems the girl had written. The editors were startled by the poems, claiming they were so insightful they had to publish them. They also decided to interview the poet for the publication as well. When they contacted her, Bowler responded in the same off-beat way: "An interview sounds COOL." After that, more letters came, some wildly funny, some deeply serious. When the editors finally managed to get Bowler on the telephone, she was as delightful as her letters were strange. The girl - it turned out - had written her first poem at age five only to have it rejected for a contest on the theme of brotherhood. As a result, she lost interest in writing poetry until her eighth grade. That year, she started to ask herself if anyone knew what she was really like. She decided to put these thoughts into a poem. The interview was a huge success, and she eventually went on to publish a book. But she had neglected to tell anyone in the interview about the diabetes that had plagued her since she was 8 years old. In the summer of 1988, Ann died from a sudden, uncontrollable drop in her blood sugar level. Shortly after Ann died, her brother, Ross Bowler, called Read.
He and other members of Ann's family felt that she was an extraordinary person, and they wanted to do something in her memory. With the support of the Bowler family, Read
has been managing the yearly Ann Arlys Bowler Poetry Contest ever since. Semi-finalist
Last week, Jessica Spieldenner, a Secaucus High School sophomore, helped keep the memory alive by being named as a semi-finalist in the Weekly Reader Corporation's Read
magazine 12th annual Ann Arlys Bowler Poetry contest. Spieldenner was away and could not be reached for comment. Six national winners and six semifinalists were chosen out of thousands of entries. Winning poets will be awarded $100 each, a medal of honor, publication of the winning poem in a fall issue of Read,
, a certificate of excellence and national publicity. Semifinalists will be awarded $50 each and certificates and will be eligible for publication in Read.
The contest was open to students in grades six through 12 who were allowed to submit up to three poems in any genre such as open verse, rhyme, narrative. Weekly Reader Corporation is a unit of WRC Media Inc., whose sister companies include Compass Learning (formerly Jostens Learning Corp.), American Guidance Service, and World Almanac. It is the leading publisher of classroom magazines for the pre-K-12 market with 8 million subscriptions nationwide. Weekly Reader's 18 periodicals are read by 8 million children and young adults each week. As one of the largest education publishers in the country, Weekly Reader promotes literacy and reading among children and sponsors a number of reading and writing contests each year. The poetry contest received more than 6,000 submissions from school kids across the United States. The winning poems, organizers said, expressed a spectrum of "colorful, proud, whimsical and heartfelt poetic thoughts, memories and images." Read magazine asked students to "reflect on a time when you felt intensely alive" and to attempt to capture that experience in a poem. Read editor Suzanne Barchers said the judges looked for well-crafted pieces. "Most of all, we week strong images and well-crafted lines that let us feel we are right inside the experience with the poet," Barchers said. "We look for innovative, highly charged work that communicates the emotion behind the poem or shows common things in brand-new ways. We listen for an original voice, good pacing and sophisticated rhymes." Barchers said that no matter whatever the reason a student writes, to reflect nature's beauty or expose injustices, recognition of their efforts helps boost their safe confidence and helps them excel.