West Bend poet invited to Carnegie Hall to receive award
By Samantha Dietel, Current Staff
A talent for poetry has earned one local student national recognition and a plane ticket to New York.
Kaitlyn Von Behren, a senior at West Bend West High School, is a gold medalist in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards for the five poems she submitted to the contest. She has been invited to New York to attend the awards ceremony that will be held June 7 inside Carnegie Hall. As a medalist, she is also encouraged to participate in other events in celebration of her achievement, including an exhibition that will feature the displayed work of some of the contest winners.
The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards is a program that allows teenage writers to enter their art or writing for an opportunity to earn scholarships and recognition for their work.
Of the thousands of original pieces submitted to the contest, Von Behren’s five poems took home not only Gold Key at the regional level, but moved on to also win gold at nationals.
Von Behren, who is also an award-winning reporter for The West Bend Current, took a moment to reflect on the prestigious accomplishment.
“It is a real confidence booster, definitely,” she said. “It makes me really proud of everything that I’ve done with writing and knowing that I have made improvements, and that I am good at this. It’s not just something that you think you’re good at it but you’re actually not. I’m not just hyping myself up. This is a talent that I have and that was pretty cool because there’s not a lot of things like that for writing. I suppose in sports you play teams and then you figure out if you’re good or not, but it’s a lot different with this sort of thing.”
Von Behren recently learned that she will be able to make the trip to New York.
“I was not expecting to be able to go,” she said. “It wasn’t really something that I even considered. I just kind of automatically assumed that we wouldn’t be able to go, because I mean, it’s in New York.”
She was in East English teacher Jo Passet’s Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition class when she learned that she had won the gold medal for her poetry on March 13.
“She was on her phone, which she wasn’t supposed to be,” Passet said. “But when she gave out a cheer, I looked at her, because people don’t normally cheer in class, and she told me what happened. I’m just so proud of her.”
Passet also explained that she has critiqued Von Behren’s writing in the past, including not only her classwork, but her poetry as well. Passet even read and offered suggestions for some of the poetry that Von Behren submitted to the Art and Writing Awards.
“I read it over and I did make some suggestions for her,” Passet said. “I don’t know whether she took them or not, but I felt honored that she would share that poetry with me, because sometimes poetry can be very personal.”
Passet believes that Kaitlyn truly puts her heart into her writing.
“I think she’s a fantastic writer and I guess what I would like to say about Kaitlyn is that what we do here is literary analysis and when Kaitlyn analyzes, she puts her heart into it and I think that really shows in her poetry.”
Passet is not the only teacher to assist Von Behren with her poetry. West English teacher Danielle Konstanz, who taught the award winner in her creative writing class last semester, was also asked to evaluate some of Von Behren’s poems.
“While I did help her as a teacher and we talked about poetry, I think that I mainly just helped her feel a little bit more confident in her writing and her abilities,” Konstanz said.
Konstanz expressed the pride she feels for Von Behren’s success in the contest.
“(Kaitlyn) is so talented,” she said. “She should be so proud of herself. I think that’s amazing that she can also represent our school and show them that people from West Bend are talented and we have a lot to offer.”
However, if it were not for a writing camp that Von Behren attended last summer, she may not have competed in the Scholastic awards at all.
It was at the Kenyon Review Young Writer’s Workshop in Ohio that Von Behren met another writer who participated in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards the previous year. This inspired her to enter some of her own writing.
“I never really entered a big contest before, and I was curious to see how I would do against other poets from around the United States,” Von Behren said.
The camp lasted for two weeks, and each day there were several sessions in which the young writers spent hours working on their own pieces. According to Von Behren, four of the five poems that she submitted to the Scholastic awards were actually drafted during these workshops, which allowed them to be critiqued and primed into more precise, emotional pieces.
Von Behren’s interest in creative writing emerged long before her participation in the Kenyon Review workshop. However, she did not begin to take it seriously until ninth grade.
“I guess it’s a good way for me to vent and I’ve always loved reading, too, so I just like the thought of being able to write things for other people to read,” she said when asked why she is so passionate about writing. “I feel like poetry is a really emotional form of literature. The best way I guess I can explain it is that I get a sense of fulfillment, or completion or something of that nature when I finally get a line right, or I finish a poem or I submit a poem somewhere. So I guess it’s just this sense of pride in your work is a lot of it, being proud of what you’ve written and being happy about it.”
(Top image: Kaitlyn Von Behren won Gold Key for her five poems at the regional level before moving on to nationals. She attended Scholastic’s Midwest Art Region-at-Large awards ceremony March 10 at the University of Iowa. Photo courtesy of Von Behren.)