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Galactic poetry

Students bring science fiction down to Earth

(Published May 20, 2002)

By BENJAMIN DUNCAN

Staff Writer

The stories illuminated the struggle between good and evil, the epic battle for control in the universe that began a long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away. They combined all the elements of a classic science fiction tale: heroic warriors, fiendish alien life forms, death, tragedy, light sabers…and café lattes.

DC Scores, a local nonprofit organization that runs a program for the city’s public school students, held an outside poetry reading in Cleveland Park on May 15. But this wasn’t just any reading. The event gave 13 students from Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Congress Heights the chance to demonstrate their creative writing abilities in front of a long line of avid "Star Wars" fans. The fans were camped out in front of the Uptown Theatre on Connecticut Avenue NW, hoping to land the best seats for the first screening of "Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones."

The students were given a piece of yellow paper with the first line of a poem that millions of people all over the world would recognize instantly: "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" – the opening line from the original "Star Wars" movie. Then they were instructed to finish the poem using the words "Star Wars" and "Starbucks" somewhere in between. Starbucks’ Cleveland Park coffee shop hosted the event. When they were finished writing, the students read their poems to the crowd that had gathered to watch.

The young poets also were treated to a visit from Jen Grubb, a professional soccer player for the Washington Freedom. Grubb was there to help the children with their writing and answer some questions about soccer. She even wrote a poem herself, which she read to the delight of the students, though she admitted she found creative writing to be much more difficult than soccer.

"I do love poetry and I love to write, but I could never make a living at it," she joked.

The event was sponsored by Starbucks and was part of a series of readings put on by DC Scores as part of its after-school program. The program encourages children from public schools around the city to play soccer and write poetry as a way of improving their minds and their bodies. Last week’s reading was one of several occasions the students have had to share their work with the local community throughout the year.

"I think it’s an opportunity to showcase what they’ve been doing in the classroom," said Holly O’Donnell, executive director of DC Scores. "It helps them practice reading in front of a wide group of people."

Starbucks took the long-anticipated second "Star Wars" prequel as an opportunity to raise money for the after-school program. The Connecticut Avenue shop found a group of 12 "Star Wars" fans and offered to donate $3 to DC Scores for every hour the group waited in line for tickets. By the Wednesday afternoon reading, they had raised over $1,000.

Adrienne Polley, one of the 12 fans, said she took her place in line at 3 p.m. on May 4, 11 days before the poetry event. She said the decision to stand in line was about more than just a lifelong love of the "Star Wars" saga.

"It started out as ‘Let’s just camp out for Star Wars,’ but we wanted to do something for this community, because we live in it and we love it," she said.

Polley said she admires DC Scores for its commitment to helping children in several different areas.

"I’m a true believer in the arts," she said. "I’m a lover of all the arts and of sports, and I like to see the children involved in both and I think this does that."

Kenny Fried, a Starbucks spokesman, said the decision to sponsor the event was part of an ongoing effort to support a worthwhile community program for children. He said that Starbucks gives an annual grant of $10,000 to $25,000 to DC Scores. The poetry reading, he said, seemed like a positive thing to do for the students as well as the "Star Wars" fans.

"We thought, ‘Hey, this would be a fun thing. We were going to have a reading anyway and we could give the people waiting in line here a purpose,’" he said.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator