When Tierra Ripley took freshman English at Gray’s Creek High School, her teacher was Joel Mayo, a poetry enthusiast who has helped organize poetry clubs at the school.
“I’ve gotten to see her grow from an amazing freshman student,’’ Mayo said. “Her ability to tell a story is strong, one of the strongest I’ve ever seen.’’
Mayo isn’t the only one who feels that way. Ripley, now a senior at Gray’s Creek, was recently honored by the North Carolina English Teachers Association as the winner of its statewide high school Poet Laureate Awards.
The award is named in memory of Kathryn Stripling-Byer, a former North Carolina Poet Laureate who died in 2017.
Ripley’s winning entry was a short poem entitled “Seafaring Sailor” that uses nautical imagery to tell a story of unrequited love.
Ripley said she’s been interested in poetry ever since her freshman year as Mayo’s student.
“It’s a way of self-expression that I can talk about things that I have trouble verbalizing just normally,’’ she said. In addition to writing poetry, Ripley said she likes to write short stories, although she doesn’t do that as much now.
“I don’t have a set style or anything,’’ she said of her poetry. “I just write what comes to mind. Sometimes they rhyme, sometimes not.’’
She’s not sure how many poems she’s written over the years but estimates she’s done about a dozen “really good ones.’’
Her entry into the poetry contest came almost by accident. One of her former English teachers had information about the contest posted in her classroom. “It was like the last days of school,’’ she said, near the end of her junior year at Gray’s Creek.
The contest required her to submit an original poem that had not been published. It didn’t have to be about a specific subject.
She finished the new work in a couple of hours and submitted it in June.
She learned she won in early August and was presented the award a couple of weeks ago.
“It meant the world to me,’’ she said. “I was so surprised. I entered the contest on a whim.
“To get such recognition and to be congratulated for my work was amazing.’’
Ripley said she’s undecided on her college future. She’s just beginning the application process and will likely attend an in-state school.
She’d like to continue with poetry, but a lot of that will depend on what opportunities are available to her.
“I’d like to involve English in my career,’’ she said. “I’d like to be an author, writer or maybe a journalist, anywhere I can utilize English.’’
Mayo said contests like the one Ripley won are great motivation for students.
“I try to provide as many opportunities as possible,’’ Mayo said, “things like our poetry club, the different contests we try to get kids involved in. I think it helps push them so they can have better opportunity to express themselves.’’
Photo: Tierra Ripley