Alan Semerdjian's poetry draws influence from various places including his Armenian heritage,...

Alan Semerdjian's poetry draws influence from various places including his Armenian heritage, his family, and as a kid from former NFL running back Tony Dorsett. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Herricks High School teacher Alan Semerdjian has been teaching the written word for more than 20 years in the classroom, but now the artist and poet has a license to spread it around Nassau after recently being named the ninth poet laureate of the county.

“It’s a real honor,” Semerdjian, 51, of New Hyde Park, said in an interview. “Little Alan would never have dreamt of this kind of recognition or honor.”

Paula Camacho, president of the county’s poet laureate society, said the laureate “has free range” to create programs that grow the poetry community. The poet laureate is tasked with judging poetry contests, helping select an annual scholarship winner, and writing a forward for an anthology produced by the society.

Semerdjian will serve a two-year term following an induction ceremony Saturday. The first recognition was given in 2007, after the formation of the Nassau County Poet Laureate Society.

To him, he said, the honor means becoming “the best champion of poetry that we can have in the region.”

In a blind assessment, which strips away names from submitted pieces, the panel of judges from the poet laureate society selected Semerdjian’s work over the other finalists.

Camacho said judges look at the contestant’s background, education, a paragraph stating their intent, and other factors before determining a winner.

“He passed all of that and we absolutely loved his poetry,” Camacho said. 

Semerdjian’s work draws influence from various places including his Armenian heritage, his family, and as a kid from former NFL running back Tony Dorsett.

“I think I wrote a simile about how he leaps over defenders like a gazelle,” he recalled of his first poem. “As I got older, I realized that poetry was helping me make sense of my identity.” 

He took inspiration from poets like Peter Balakian, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams and even Walt Whitman. He worked as a caretaker at The Walt Whitman Birthplace in Huntington Station. He’s been published in journals, worked as a writer for a local magazine, and written and produced numerous songs.

But one of his major feats, he said, is teaching English and poetry to his students.

“What’s so satisfying about it is that it allows me to understand the uniqueness of each learner,” he said. “The way their minds construct meaning.”

He also cofounded the English Scholars program at Herricks High School, an elective where students can immerse themselves in one form of art and produce work, while faculty acts as mentors.

Joan Keegan, principal of Herricks High School, said the school is proud to celebrate Semerdjian’s recognition.

“This prestigious recognition highlights his outstanding work as an educator, creating an environment where students feel seen, heard, and inspired to grow as reflective, lifelong learners,” Keegan wrote in a statement to Newsday.

Outgoing Nassau County Poet Laureate Paula Curci, who served in the capacity since 2022, will be passing the baton to Semerdjian at an induction ceremony at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Farmingdale Public Library.

“I see the position as an ambassador to the art of writing and poetry, and its use for healing, learning and understanding of oneself,” she said.

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