Young poet laureates named in Chilmark

Three of the four winners stand with Rabbi Barnett Brickner. Zoe Miriam Bursztajn Illingworth, Marina Sharkovitz, and Ava Geyer. Photo courtesy of Kristin Maloney
Three of the four winners stand with Rabbi Barnett Brickner. (From left) Zoe Miriam Bursztajn Illingworth, Marina Sharkovitz, and Ava Geyer. Photo courtesy of Kristin Maloney.

By Eleni Collins - August 24, 2006

This year marked the 12th annual Elisa Brickner children's poetry contest, named for the 17-year-old girl who died in an accident in 1973. Elisa loved poetry, and in her memory a contest was started and a poetry corner was established in the Chilmark Public Library.

There are two divisions in the contest, one for youngsters in grades six to eight, and one for high school students. There is a one-poem limit per person, but work can be of any length and style. There is no residency requirement, and all young writers are encouraged to compete no matter where they live.

On Monday, August 14, three of the winners got together with Rabbi Barnett Brickner, the brother of Elisa Brickner, at the Chilmark library to read their poems. Mr. Brickner is the son of Rabbi Balfour Brickner, now deceased, who founded the contest.

This year's high school division winner was 15-year-old Zoe Miriam Bursztajn Illingworth. Zoe has been summering in Chilmark since age seven, and this fall she will be entering the 10th grade at Buckingham Browne and Nichols School in Cambridge.

Victorious for the third year in a row for the first prize in the junior high division was 13-year-old Ava Geyer of Cambridge. "I've been writing poetry for as long as I can remember," says Ava. "I also enjoy writing short fiction, and plays as well." Her winning poem is titled "The Three Beds of Frida Kahlo."

While at her summer home in Chilmark, one of her favorite activities is sailing in the Menemsha Pond races. This fall, she will be entering eighth grade at the Shady Hill School in Cambridge.

Second place in the high school division for her poem "The Hitchhiker" was Marina Sharkovitz, from West Tisbury. This fall, Marina will be a junior at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, where she plays the violin in the orchestra.

Second-place winner in the junior high school division was 13-year-old Ola Levitas, of Serbia, who summers in Chilmark with her grandmother Gloria Levitas. She was out of the country at the time of the celebratory readings, and on her behalf, Zada Clarke, who lives in Chilmark and is the same age, read her poem, titled "Spider."

John Maloney, Island poet and stonemason; David Modigliani, a writer and previous winner of the Brickner poetry contest; and Donald Nitchie, a poet and year-round resident of Chilmark, were the three judges for the contest. The first-prize contest winners each received $200, and the second-place winners were awarded $100 each. The winning poems can be found in a leather-bound volume in the Elisa Brickner poetry corner at the Chilmark library.

The Chilmark library has one of the best poetry collections on the Island, thanks to the Brickners' support. "We have a wonderful poetry collection because we are able to buy more than other libraries with this [Brickner] fund," says Chilmark's Youth Services Librarian Kristin Maloney. "We have a modern, up-to-date current collection of poets."