Elijah Santner, 16, is spearheading a poetry gathering, workshop and open-mic session titled “Bridging the Gap” on Saturday, May 18 on the Springtown Road pedestrian bridge that spans the Wallkill River along the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, as a fundraiser for the Hudson Valley Writers’ Project (HVWP) Young Writers’ Program. “I do a lot of my writing on that bridge,” said Santner, a 10th-grader at the Poughkeepsie Day School who recently was selected as Scholastic Magazine’s Writer of the Month for his Earth Day-inspired poem, “Dirt.”
“There are so many poets in this area, but I think too often we’re separated by age and generations,” said Santner, who works on the weekend at the Bakery in downtown New Paltz, which is owned by his father, David Santner. Bridging the Gap has a twofold meaning: one to bring poets of all ages together, and secondly to host a workshop/writing/open-mic session along a scenic linear public park.
To that end, Santner’s mother, Rebecca Burdett, a veteran elementary school teacher in the New Paltz Central School District, will be on hand to run a younger children’s poetry workshop. There will also be a Nature Poetry Workshop for poets of all ages led by Rich Parisio, New York State River of Words coordinator. “We will also have various word/writing props around the bridge to inspire writers, or simply have the beauty of the surroundings to let the words flow,” said the young poet.
The writing workshops will take place from 3 to 4 p.m. After that, Santner said, everyone is “encouraged to participate in an open-mic session from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. They can read what they wrote that day or bring something else to read.”
The aspiring young poet has already had success that many veteran poets would welcome. He submitted eight poems and two short stories to the Scholastic Youth Arts and Writing Contest and received two Golden Key awards, four Silvers and two Honorable Mentions. He explained that when the poems were being sent to the national contest, his work caught the eye of one of the judges. “I was invited to attend a writing program at Denison College,” and later, another judge asked him to submit a poem for Earth Day, which was “Dirt,” the featured poem of the month.
In terms of his poetry, Santner said that some of his strongest influences have been the Beat poets like Burroughs and Ginsberg and Kerouac, but added that some have described his poems as being “Whitmanesque…which is an outrageous compliment.”
He said that he was inspired to take a leadership role by organizing this poetry event after he had the privilege of being a presenter for the HVWP on “spoken-word poetry,” and also having had the opportunity to be a co-teacher for a poetry course at the Poughkeepsie Day School. “Whether 50 people turn out or five people turn out, my hope for this event is to inspire even one person to write poetry,” he said.
There is a rain date of Sunday, May 19, and the organizers will be asking for, but not requiring, a $5 donation towards the HVWP Young Writers’ Program. Parking is available at the Ulster BOCES parking lot off Route 32 near the Huguenot Street Rail Trail entrance, and handicapped parking is available on Coffey Lane. For more information, go to https://www.newpaltz.edu/hvwp/.