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Poetry contest winner pays tribute to MN veterans

Detroit Lakes teenager Taylor Van de Streek proudly displays “Life Savers,” the poem she wrote honoring the veterans in her life and entered in U.S. Senator Al Franken’s annual poetry contest ­— where she took third place among all entries in grades 10-12. The poem was reprinted in the “Congressional Record,” and a framed copy is now displayed in the senator’s offices. DL NEWSPAPERS/Vicki Gerdes

Though she’s been writing poems, prose, stories and essays of every description since she first learned how to put pen to paper, Taylor Van de Streek was extremely surprised when she learned her poem, “Life Savers,” was an award winner.

“I had no idea until you guys (i.e., this newspaper) contacted me,” she said. “I didn’t even think it was close to winning anything — it was pretty amazing to find out.”

The recent Detroit Lakes High School graduate was among hundreds who took part in U.S. Senator Al Franken’s third annual student poetry contest, honoring Minnesota veterans.

“My poetry teacher, Mrs. Kvebak, brought it (notice of the contest) to class one day,” Van de Streek said. “Several of us entered.”

Sen. Franken’s annual poetry contest, which recognizes both the “Month of the Military Child” and “National Poetry Month,” is designed to help thank Minnesota families for their sacrifices while a loved one serves in the military. It was open to students in elementary, middle school and high school age groups.

This year’s theme was, “Celebrating the Veteran in My Life.” Contest judges included Minnesota Commissioner of Veterans Affairs Larry Shellito, Adjutant General of the Minnesota National Guard Major General Richard Nash, Minnesota Commissioner of Education Dr. Brenda Cassellius, and Minnesota Poet Laureate Joyce Sutten.

Taylor’s decision to submit a poem wasn’t a hard one to make. After all, it was a topic she knew well, as “my dad, dad’s best friend, and my ninth grade physics teacher are all veterans — and my grandpa was too.”

Deciding on whom to write about was a little harder. “To pick just one (subject) would be very difficult,” Van de Streek admitted — so she decided to write about all of them.

It actually only took her about 10 minutes to compose the poem. “It just came to me, and I wrote it all down,” she said.

The type of composition she was writing may have had something to do with it. “I find it easier to write poetry than anything else,” Van de Streek said.

“Ever since I learned how to write I’ve been making up stories and poems,” she said. “My grandma was an English teacher, and she really inspired me to get out there and start writing.”

Despite her affinity for writing, however, Van de Streek still isn’t sure about her future career plans, and says she plans to take some time before continuing her education.

“I’m not sure what I want to do, but I’m sure writing is in the plans somewhere,” she said, adding that in the meantime, “I’m looking for a job.”

Taylor, who is the daughter of Detroit Lakes residents Diane and Jeff Van de Streek, took third place among all competitors in grades 10-12.

According to a press release issued by Sen. Franken’s office, top winning poems in each category will be framed and displayed in one of the senator’s offices, either in St. Paul or Washington, D.C. It has also been printed in the “Congressional Record,” and appears here with the author’s permission.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454