Tag Archives: anthology of student writing


15 December 2017

I recently finished editing the latest COMPAS Anthology of Student Writing—entitled This Bursting Sound Within. This is no less than the 38th (!) collection of the best student writing that COMPAS teaching artists discover each year across the state of Minnesota:

Subtle and evocative

Subtle and evocative visuals from COMPAS artist Shakun Maheshwari, here on the cover.


This past weekend was the official celebration of the book’s release, and St. Paul’s Landmark Center saw hundreds of people gather for the group reading. The setting was stunning, festivities joyous, and the young readers overwhelmingly brilliant. Folks who couldn’t be there will need to settle for this, my editor’s introduction to the book:


For decades now, COMPAS has been sending the writers in its Creative Classroom Program out into the schools and communities of Minnesota. What began as a handful of poets in the late Sixties, working mostly in Twin Cities urban schools, has expanded into a thriving statewide network of songwriters, storymakers, playwrights, comedians, graphic novelists, spoken word artists, and beyond. The forms may change, but at the center of it all remain WORDS, and the ability—nay, the necessity—to communicate.

Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? Why do people hate? fear? love? These are timeless questions—yet how often do we expect our children to voice them, let alone propose answers?

Out of all those classrooms, and all those clever exercises designed to move reluctant writers past barriers, COMPAS writers and artists selected the best for submission to this book. From that group, we have gone further, and selected the best of the best. The range of styles and topics is boggling. We get everything from the complexity and sophistication of Ekhlas Abdullahi and Nafiso Mohamed’s “Anchor,” to the pure joy of “Let’s Go Camping” by the energetic kindergartners of Mr. Crosby’s class. We get marvelous fantasy adventures (see virtually the entire section of “Diving into Adventure”), noble tirades against injustice (note especially the “Speaking Up/Speaking Out” section), and bold revelations and questions about the world.

Remember the last time you fled your homeland in fear and had to resettle in a new country where people spoke an unknown tongue? Me neither. But some of these students do, and the insights they provide are crucial. Just check “The Roots within Us” by Lay Lay and see if your perspective isn’t enlarged. Ivy Raya considers the impact of adoption in “Nameless”: “My name is who I am, but it has been changed throughout time. Does that mean that I have changed as well?” Hailey Dahl exposes feelings that many of us have in “Anxiety Poem”:

“It’s like a little creature

Sitting on your shoulder

Telling you you’re not worth anyone’s time

Or that everything you’re doing is wrong

You push people away before they get the chance to abandon you.”

Powerful stuff, that.

Interior illustrations by COMPAS artist Fiona Avocado exude boldness and playfulness.

Interior illustrations by COMPAS artist Fiona Avocado exude boldness and playfulness.


Equally powerful to me are those pieces that offer an almost prescient sense of time passing, never to be regained. My favorite in this vein is Eavan Bobbe’s poem “The Playground.” Replete with imagery and wistfulness, it serves as an epitaph to childhood.

Throughout these pieces, there is a sense that the young writers are often responding to an internal imperative to make their voices heard. It’s that entire concept of this is something that I can’t keep from saying that brought me the title of the book. Cristina Furness Rubio concludes her epic linguistic paeon to the Catalan language (“Tongue Waltz”) with the words:
“I am from this bursting sound within.”

That’s what fifth grader Henry Hilton had in mind, when he wrote:

“A whole page flowing out

Of my brain and onto the page.

A sea of thoughts expressed.

The weight of the world

On a piece of paper.”

Let the sea of thoughts heave and foam . . . rejoice that the bursting sound comes forth!

—Daniel Gabriel, Editor



How to “Punch at the Wild Tornado”

When the world comes at you hard, fight back! Words can be a powerful weapon.

When the world comes at you hard, fight back! Words can be a powerful weapon—and COMPAS artist Dennis Lo depicts this brilliantly.

19 December 2014

Last Saturday I had the privilege of gathering at Landmark Center in St. Paul to celebrate the publication of the 36th COMPAS Anthology of Student Writing, entitled Punch at the Wild Tornado. As both Arts Program Director for COMPAS and, for the first time, Editor of the Anthology, I had a particularly high stake in the game. What a delight to hear the young people loose their hopes, fears and imaginative speculations into the resounding confines of Landmark’s classical Cortile. A grand time was had by all!

Student authors gather at the start of the Publication Celebration in Landmark Center.

Student authors gather at the start of the Publication Celebration in Landmark Center.

It’s easy to dismiss the rising generation as self-obsessed or clueless about how the world really works, but the young voices in this book belie those stereotypes. We hear from new immigrants describing the treacherous paths they took to reach Minnesota and rural kids embedded in nature and alert to the details of the changing environment around them. We encounter tender poetry and profound insights from kids who have not yet reached double digits in age. (“Poetry is . . . a lake deeper than you can think” says third grader Leo Fridley in the very first piece in the book.) There are glorious tales of adventure (check out “Pendrick and the Serum” or “A Letter I’ll Never Forget”) and poignant insights into lives that stutter and stumble forward.

Perhaps nothing is more affecting than the series of voices from Rochester STEM Academy, a heavily-Somali charter school that worked extensively with Hip Hop spoken word artist Frank Sentwali. Listening to the young women (and one young man) sound forth on the dis-junction they see between their lives and media reports reminds us both of the complexity of race relations in this country and the global links we all share, regardless of country of origin.

A handful of the pieces were selected by judge Joyce Sidman (a COMPAS Roster Artist with a national reputation in children’s literature) as winners of a Lillian Wright Award for Creative Writing. Of the six winners, two that jumped out at me both came from middle schoolers—a vigorous spoken word piece by Sophia Rapacz that said everything I wish I’d had the wisdom to say back in junior high days, and an affecting, wistful memoir by Kira Greenfield that was written as part of a unit on watersheds, but took the topic in a completely unexpected direction.

Wright Award winners gather with judge and author Joyce Sidman.

Wright Award winners gather with judge and author Joyce Sidman.

The modern world may be infatuated with the digital realm, but there’s nothing like a solid, printed book to provide a direct link to the past 5,000 years of writers at work. The finest repositories of human cultural heritage are these simple paper rectangles that reveal so much of our highest and deepest aspirations. It comforts me to know that a new generation of writers stands ready to fill those pages.