By Kyah Corff

SYV Star Intern


“Awkward” can be a daunting thought for children who are coming of age, but local elementary school students submitted 12 poems on that theme to the first Poetry Reading Challenge on Dec. 6 at the Solvang Library.

The event, sponsored by the library and the Santa Ynez Valley Arts Association, challenged the tweens to express their experiences with the tough topic.

There were 12 poems submitted, and four poets read aloud at the event.

“I wanted to create opportunities for students to express themselves through poetry,” said Steve Braff, a freelance poet and promoter of local poetry, who came up with the idea for the event.

In choosing the ‘awkward’ theme, he said, he had hoped to create a sense of community through shared experiences for the young writers as they navigate through puberty.

About 25 people, including teachers, principals, friends and family, gathered around a table at the library to hear and discuss each poet’s work.

The readings were opened with “Awkward Porcupine” by Audrey Fuette of Solvang School. In a frank, comical style, it talked about feeling like an imposter while dealing with the awkward characteristics of puberty.

Next was Brooklyn Fletcher of Los Olivos School with “Friends’ Houses Can Be Awkward Too!” The poem used imagery to connect the audience with the common situation of seeing a friend argue with a parent.

Cole Swain of Jonata Middle School shared “Morning Bread.” The poem, in a semi-rap style, was a sensitive piece detailing a broken heart. The clincher, “I should not cry, as a guy/ But in this moment, I wanted to die,” sent waves of empathy through the listeners.

Finally, the “Handshake of Death” by Marc Westall of Los Olivos School used alliteration to create a comical poem about an unreciprocated handshake.

Cole, one of the poets, said he had not had much experience with writing but found the theme relatable and wanted to try something new.

“I found it interesting,” he said of the reading. At first nervous, he felt rewarded and enriched by the experience afterward, and he wants to encourage his friends to try it.

Carey McKinnon, lead staff member at the Solvang Library, had a large role in setting up the Poetry Reading Challenge. She was charmed by the sense of community support present.

“The community made the event,” McKinnon said. “I hope it reinforces their (the poets’) self-confidence and encourages them to keep writing.”

“Poetry becomes real and tangible when we get our own association with it,” Braff added.

Braff and McKinnon said they hope to host another Poetry Reading Challenge, probably on a different theme. They hope to encourage and inspire young writers and bring poetry into the mainstream culture of the Santa Ynez Valley.

When the next date is set, it will be posted in the online library events calendar. Go to, choose the “Services” tab and click on “Library.”