Express Yourself  

The 33rd Annual Poetry and the Children Day

Andrei Guruianu stands on the Osterhout Concert Theater stage before 400 kids and their teachers, families and friends and raises a thick 8.5” by 11” book with a light-blue paper cover.

“How cool is this that your poems are in a book already?” the recent graduate of Binghamton University’s English doctoral program excitedly asks the clapping, cheering children, each of whom has a poem in the book. “Keep writing so you can be in other books!”

It’s the 33rd Annual Poetry and the Children Day and Guruianu shares the stage with Harpur College Dean Donald Nieman, who relishes this creation and sharing of poetry among the hundreds of young people in grades 2 to 8 from 38 schools.

“When I began writing poetry about 10 years ago,” Guruianu says from the stage, “I discovered something that I never really knew was inside of me. Maybe you guys started realizing this as well when you began writing poetry. I had so much to say about everything. I wanted to write about everything, about the weather, about my family and friends, about things that made me happy, but also about things that made me upset.”

After his presentation, the audience breaks into five groups and noisily spreads to the many theaters in the Anderson Center. At the head of one of the groups, Dean Nieman smiles and asks, “isn’t this fun?” and starts a conversation with a teacher. He heads to Studio B, an intimate, dimly lit theater with less than 10 rows of seating. The kids sit in front, the parents in back.

From next to a microphone on the low stage, Nieman calls out a name and greets the children with a big smile, and outstretched hand and a “Hi. How are you?” as they walk up to read their original poetry, some reciting from memory, proclaiming loudly to the room, some quietly reading from a piece of paper and hurrying off the stage, each having a moment in the spotlight to show off their talent and express themselves to family and friends.

As a published author and assistant professor of English at North Central College in Illinois, Guiruianu calls their poems “a testament to the power words have over us and the power of language to bring us all together despite were we come from, economic, religious and cultural backgrounds. These are poems of sadness, of joy, of contemplation. Most of all, they are poems where the listener or reader gets to know what is really inside the poet’s mind.”

After the readings the kids gather in the Grand Corridor to share stories over cookies and juice. A group of sixth graders from Ann G. McGuinness Intermediate School in the Union-Endicott School District talk about their poems and the event.

“I’ve liked writing for awhile,” says Matt Simmons, who read his tribute to Haiti. “It’s a good way to express myself and it’s fun to make people think and laugh.”

Natalie Murphy writes poetry regularly, too, and says the event is a good forum to share ideas. “I liked hearing different things from different schools,” she says. “You could tell that some of them had themes and I liked hearing the different ways kids wrote about them.”

Poetry and the Children Day was established as a memorial to Robert Pawlikowski, a published poet, creative writing instructor and campus administrative assistant who drowned in 1975 while on vacation with his family. The event is a tribute to the efforts that Pawlikowski made during his lifetime in nurturing the expressive and intellectual powers of his students as well as those of his own children.

Partially underwritten by the Oakdale Mall and Susan Clark-Johnson, the anthology held up by Guruianu was prepared by the Office of the Dean of Harpur College and is distributed to each participating student, teachers and local libraries.

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Last Updated: 6/3/15