Tuesday night high school artists decorated the sidewalks around the Boise Art Museum with chalk. Each chalk drawing was inspired by a winning poem from a statewide poetry contest. More than 1,600 students entered this competition. One hundred three were selected for publication. One tiny school produced nine of those winners.
Miranda Ode goes to Marian Pritchett High School. It’s for girls who get pregnant and are at risk of dropping out. She flips through a small book of poetry looking for the page with her name. Miranda’s poem was one of the winners of a contest sponsored by the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence . Miranda is 17. She’s about to graduate and go to cosmetology school. She has a little girl and a fiancé. Her poem is about him.
"Waddling up the hill
Determined to get to the top
You laughed as I stumbled
You grabbed my arm and said,
Don’t worry’ I won’t let you fall
At the top looking down at everyone,
Wearing bright colors
Like sprinkles on a cupcake.
Both at the end of something
But the beginning of something else,
A new relationship
Standing on top of the hill
We tried to convince ourselves we were only friends.”
The idea of the Love What's Real contest is to get teens to write about relationships to help promote healthy ones. Miranda has a lot of relationship experience for a 17 year old. She says she had a boyfriend for three years in her early teens. "A really abusive, mentally abusive and just a horrible relationship,” she says.
Malia Collins says that life experience is a big part of why the girls from Marian Pritchett write so well. Collins spends one day a week at Marian Pritchett teaching creative writing as part the Writers in the Schools program from the Cabin literary center.
“They have sort of gone beyond this romantic idea of love that we get to have when we’re in high school." Collins says, "And I think why people respond to their work so strongly is because they don’t have a cookie cutter idea of what love is about.”
Among Collins' students are several refugees who started to arrive at the school a few years ago. Some of them are winners in this year’s contest. Purni Adikari won third place. She grew up in Nepal and got married when she was 15 against her parent’s wishes. But then, she says, her whole family got the chance to come to Idaho. “My mom says we have to go here. So many people, they are jealous.”
Purni says people were jealous because they wanted to come to America. The one exception was her husband. At the last moment he decided not to get on the plane. Purni did even though she was two months pregnant. She stares off into the distance with a nervous smile. She tells her story in stops and starts because it’s painful and her English is limited. Finally she says, her poem is about the husband she never expects to see again.
“Blocking the sun.
He is gone from me,
his name is floating away
like a leaf dropped in a stream
I block the moments of time I spent with
like my hand blocks the sun
from my eyes.”
Writer Malia Collins says the refugee girls’ limited English can be a plus in poetry. Their writing is simple, even stark. But Collins says the biggest reason for the success of all the girls is the school’s emphasis on writing.
“The students at Marian Pritchett consider themselves writers. And I think they believe that our classes, we’re a community of writers,” she says.
But the school that fosters that community nearly closed two years ago. The Idaho Legislature eliminated all its funding. The Boise School District eventually took over and kept the school open. Miranda Ode says she wouldn’t have graduated without Marian Pritchett. She says going to a normal high school is just too hard if you’re pregnant.
“People call you a slut. People say you’re this you’re this, you’re that, you know. They just look down on you." She adds, "And you just, you start to believe it after a while.”
Miranda was severely depressed before she came to Marian Pritchett. But the school, she says, is like being in a supportive family. And she says writing poetry helped a lot too.