PNW wordsmiths help Highland celebrate National Poetry Month

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The PNW writing community’s presence was felt at the Sip-N-Slam poetry contest at Sip Coffeehouse in Highland on April 6, and PNW’s First Friday Wordsmith’s president finished as the runner-up.

All poets read poems they had written themselves.

Hammond High School senior Moises Pulido won against PNW’s Areej Majdi “AJ” Saleh in the final of three rounds. For an encore, both finalists then read another poem.

Saleh, freshman civil engineering major, read poems focusing on social issues and Arab culture, and sometimes they included the tension between individual desires and tradition.

For example, in the second round, she read a poem about being a woman or anything other than a cisgendered male.

“Tell me your story, Mr. Invisible Man… How many works of literature exist in which we are not invisible?” Saleh read.

Pulido’s poems featured themes of mental illness, troubled youth and love for a mother who was unappreciated when she was alive.

“How many versions of myself am I going to be before someone finally loves me fully? … When you read this, I hope you would have started loving yourself by then,” Pulido read.

Highland poet laureate Janine Harrison, former PNW instructor, organized the event in celebration of National Poetry Month. Although not a contestant, she read a few of her poems, which featured scenes from Haiti. In one, she imagined that the mysterious crowing she heard at night might be connected to the spirits of revolutionary Dutty Boukman and runaway slaves.

Other entrants were PNW instructor Jade Lynch-Greenberg, local businessman Hardarshan Valia, Lainie Polen and local political activist Brandon Dothager.

Harrison said, from her experience attending or running other poetry slams, she decided to allow the whole audience, including the entrants to vote. Traditionally, there would have been preselected judges.

About 32 people voted, although there were different numbers in each round, Harrison said.

Lynch-Greenberg, who often performs poetry at open-mic events, said this was the first slam competition she entered. She still performed under her stage name, “Shadow Von Kat.” Her poems featured thoughts from the classroom, such as the anxiety of students.

“I am often inspired to write poems about things that make me unhappy or have made me unhappy in the past. My academic writing comes from a place of growth and seeds of knowledge sewn. My poetry comes from darkness, which is one reason it feels right to perform it under a pseudonym, even in places where people know me,” Lynch-Greenberg said.

Poetry offers her a welcome break from the academic writing she often needs to do, she said.

“Having a creative outlet – that only strengthens our abilities as writers,” Lynch-Greenberg said. “It breeds more enthusiastic writing; it’s really good for one’s inner writer.”

Saleh, who has been club president for two months, said she wrote stories until she was in seventh grade, when her English classes inspired her to try poetry. Saleh said writing poetry is therapeutic for her and that it her deal with everyday life and long-term traumas.

“When I started performing, I found ways to connect with people with similar experiences and feelings. That’s what draws me to performance poetry: the connection with an audience of strangers who you somehow end up trusting to hear your innermost feelings, albeit loudly and with passion,” Saleh said.

Several other members of the First Friday Wordsmiths came with Saleh.

Victoria Alvarez, freshman English major, said she sees poetry as an artist’s unique fingerprint.

“I’d say that Moises has a way of crafting his words to paint a descriptive picture, whether it’s beautiful or painful,” Alvarez said. “For AJ, I would point out that she has a lot of bold and compelling aspects in her poems, and that really shined through with the powerful projection in her voice.”

Andrew Miloshoff, junior electrical engineering major, said he likes what Saleh has done with the club and hopes they do more field trips like this one. He said he had no words to describe how well he thought Saleh had done, and he really enjoyed Lynch-Greenberg’s style of presenting her poems. He also said Pulido was incredible.