Poetry Jam


>>Betsy Peterson:
Hello, everyone. Welcome. I’m Betsy Peterson. I’m the Director of the
American Folklife Center here at the Library of Congress,
and on behalf of everyone here and the staff, I want to
thank you all for coming. For those of you who
are new to the library and the American Folklife
Center, just a couple of words. The American Folklife
Center was founded in 1976, established by Congress, with
a mandate to both present and preserve the rich diversity of American folklife
throughout the U.S. and beyond, including traditional cultural
practice, music, story telling, food, craft, dance,
and the like. For over 40 years now, then, or,
actually a little bit over, 42, I think, we’ve been
presenting cultural traditions to the public through
our concerts, lectures, and related educational
programs, and we work to preserve
folklife on behalf of the public through our archives, primarily. And, I should say the center’s
archives of traditional culture, which is the base or
foundation of our program today, is the largest in the world,
with over 6.5 million items of recordings, of photographs,
of manuscripts, posters, videos, film, and the like,
documenting everything from the earliest
native recordings of Native American
language and sacred music from the 1890s all the way up
to the present taxi drivers in New York City, circus
workers in the Midwest, civil rights veterans
from the 1960s. And, that’s what we find here,
and I want to invite you all to come sometime and
check out our archives. But, today’s event, Rhyming
the Archives: Poetry Showcase, is very exciting for us. Because we’re always trying
to figure out ways to enhance and engage people
in our archives and engage with the collections. Now, we obviously provide access
to researchers and scholars from throughout the world who
come to the archive to work with the material, but we’re
also equally interested in inspiring and
engaging artists, writers, musicians of all kinds, in hopes
of sparking their creativity and imagination to sort
of play with and work with what they find in the
archive and create something of their own out of it. So, today’s event is cosponsored
by the library’s Poetry and Literature Center, and
Rhyming the Archives is going to feature five or six poets. I’m not quite sure which, but
you’ll hear in greater detail. Who are members of Split This
Rock, D.C. Youth Slam Team, and who will be performing
poems that they wrote. Some of which have been inspired
from their resent research in the American Folklife
Center’s archives. And, I should say for a
couple of Saturdays in May, members of the team visited
the center to conduct research into the collections,
reading protests, song lyrics, and dictionaries on American
slang and listening to a range of different recordings, including African American work
songs collected and performed by anthropologist, playwright,
and novelist Zora Neale Hurston in the late 1930s, looking and
hearing interviews with leaders of the civil rights movement,
listening to calypso music from Trinidad, oral histories
with Japanese Americans interned in concentration camps
during World War II, and traditional music from Afghanistan recorded
in the late 1940s. Clearly, a very broad array of
topics and styles and cultures, so I’m really looking forward
to hearing what they have come up with and hear
their wonderful poems. But, before I introduce Split
This Rock, just a couple of thanks to all of the
individuals who have worked so hard to make this happen. And, I’d like to thank Rob
Casper and Annie [inaudible] at the library’s Poetry and Literature Center
and Anne Holmes. Also, Thea Austin, our Public
Events Coordinator here at the American Folklife
Center and Folklife Specialist at the center, Michelle Stefano
who worked with the poets over the past few weeks and
will be moderating a discussion with them after the performance. Also, I want to note, as if you
haven’t already figured it out, that this event is
recorded, and recorded so that it will be
made available online for future publics
and for people around the world to enjoy. So, with that said, if you
have a cell phone turned on, please turn it off
at this point. We would greatly appreciate it, and I’m sure our
poets would as well. So, Split This Rock was created
in 2008 and is based here in Washington, D.C. It
serves to cultivate, teach, and celebrate poetry that
bears witness to injustice and provokes social change. It calls poets to a
greater role in public life and fosters a national network
of socially engaged poets. Each year, the organization
supports hundreds of young people and
the schools they attend by offering opportunities
to write, perform, and connect with a
diverse community of socially engaged writers. So, now, please welcome the
Director of Youth Programs at Split this Rock, Chelsea
Iorlano, who is going to tell us a little bit
more about the organization and today’s brilliant,
fabulous poets. So, welcome. [ Applause and Cheering ]>>Chelsea Iorlano: This mic? I’m just going to leave it be. Okay. Hello, everyone. It’s wonderful to see you all. Thank you for being here. How’s everyone doing? Good. Okay. Are we awake? Excellent. Thank you so much, Betsy,
for the introduction. My name is Chelsea Iorlano. I am the Director of Youth
Programs at Split This Rock. Thank you so much for
the lovely introduction. As Betsy let you all know, we are a nonprofit
based in the D.C. area. We really live at
the intersection of social justice and poetry. We have a vibrant
array of programs that we offer throughout the
year for young people as well as everyone else,
regardless of age. We create inter-generational
spaces and spaces where we’re really able to
celebrate and come together and connect through
our differences and find shared community,
really around poetry and the inspiration
and the power that it gives us in our lives. And so, the D.C. Slam Team is
an exciting program that happens at Split this Rock each summer. You’re going to hear from
four of the young women on the team today who are
brilliant, inspiring poets as well as from the
head coach of the team, Alexa Patrick, who is here. I’d also like to
thank Brandon Douglas, who is our Assistant Coach
for the team this year. We have an incredible group
of people to be, kind of, carrying us through
the work this summer, and at Split This
Rock, you know, we believe that poetry is an
important part of the work that we are doing to create
social change in terms of our movement toward freedom
and really visioning the world that we all hope to live in and
share together with one another. And, youth programs
has always been at the heart of that
work for me. I feel privileged and delighted
to be in the role that I am at at Split This Rock, and
to constantly be working with the young people who. You know, we like to say a lot
of times there’s this narrative around youth who are doing this
work and thinking about youth as the leaders of tomorrow,
but at Split This Rock, we really believe that you
all are the leaders today. And, we are excited to hand
over that leadership to you. We’re excited to hand
over the mic to you and to hear what you have
to say in recognition that there are not
often a lot of spaces that give you all the platform
to speak, but we have come to find that you are the
brilliant people who we need to be listening to more often. So, I’m really excited
for us to be here together to create this shared space
where we will be handing the mic over to the young people and
hear what they have to say. You’ll hear a selection
of poems from each youth that will include some work
that they have already written, work that has helped them,
you know, get to this part of their own professional
youth poetry careers on the D.C. Slam Team, as well
as poems that they have crafted in response to the incredible
archives that Michelle was so wonderful in supporting the
young people in their research and in their investigations. That has been really exciting,
and we’re, as an organization, our name Split This Rock,
actually comes from a line in poem by Langston
Hughes called “Big Buddy”. This is something that is very
exciting for us to be kind of together in these
archives to be, you know, going through different
material, some of which were
documents and papers that Langston Hughes
himself had collected and contributed to the archive. So, that was a really
cool moment. That’s all I’m going to
say today before I get out of the way and introduce
the poets, but I’m just going to go ahead and actually
introduce the poets who are going to come on stage
and who you’ll hear from today. I will call the first poet up,
and then, I will allow each poet to kind of introduce yourselves,
and they all know the order that they’re coming up in. So, this year’s team,
or who you’ll be hearing from today is Amina
Fatima, Takier George, Jordan Shaibani,
and Marjan Naderi. Round of applause
for [inaudible]. [ Applause ] And, the first poet who you’ll
be hearing from today is Amina. [ Applause ]>>Amina Fatima: Okay. Hi, everyone. My name’s Amina Fatima. I’m a recent high
school graduate. I graduated yesterday
from Midfield High School. [ Applause and Cheering ] Thank you. I’ll be attending Northern
Virginia Community College in the fall to study [inaudible]
degree in General Science, and yeah, the first
poem I’m going to share with you guys is one that
I wrote while, or, like, in between our trips
to the archives. And, while we were visiting,
I found myself searching for something that I could
really connect to and trying to find, like, older documents that maybe I could
see myself in. And, I don’t necessarily think that I found exactly
what I was searching for, but just that in itself
sparked this piece. This poem is untitled. They say poets are storytellers, so let me tell you the earliest
memory I have of my faith. I was eight years old,
and in second grade. I’d forgotten my
homework folder at home, and upon realizing my mistake,
I remembered that when worried, my mother would always pray. So, I closed my eyes tight
and tried for myself, inhaled as one does
before blowing out the candles and
making a wish. I prayed that my teacher
wouldn’t be angry with me, and God said, “I’ll
do you one better.” The teacher forgot to
collect homework that day. They say poets are lovers, so let me teach you how
I learned to love first. I learned that my mother’s
love for me is infinite. Second, I learned that God loves
me 70 times more than she does, 70 times infinity, learned that love is always infinitely
growing, molding, melting, filling crevices that I
never even knew existed. They say poets are painters, so
let me paint for you a picture of the day my grandmother died. The sun still rose, and
the birds sang what felt like a little too
loud for the occasion, and the phone rang
and rang and rang. And, while none of the calls
were from her as I wanted them to be, I learned that
in talking to God, my grandmother would answer. They say poets are
depressed, and in being so, I wrote a letter to God. It went something like this. Dear God, I know you only
burden me with what I’m supposed to be able to handle, but
sometimes, I begin to feel like maybe I’m a product of miscalculation
and over estimation. Sometimes, I think maybe
I was never supposed to make it this far. Maybe His love is not
that what I deserve. Nights spent in [inaudible] with tears glazing my skin made
me realize [foreign language], your Lord has not forsaken
you, nor does he detest you, and the future will be
better for you than the past. They watch me pray, and then say
no one is up there listening, but all they’ve done
is watch me pray. They haven’t seen the rest
of what I’m come through. Had they seen it, to see me
standing here alive would be enough proof that He
is indeed listening and granting and blessing. His performance has
been revolutionary. This performance a minuscule
seed of His revolution, this performance prayer,
submission, repentance. This performance liberation,
this poem undecided, this poem shape shifter,
love poem, survival poem. I survived and how poem. This poem a thank you
a [foreign language]. [ Applause and Cheering ]>>Jordan Shaibani: Hi,
I’m Jordan Shaibani. I, unfortunately, did not
graduate high school yesterday. I’m a junior. I’m a junior, so I have a
little bit more time to go. I got to Walt Whitman High
School in Bethesda, Maryland. Outside of Split This Rock,
I am part of the debate and trial team at my school and also run the
Minority Scholars program. So, that’s kind of
like my [inaudible]. So, on our second day,
our second research day at the Library of Congress,
I started to find inspiration in the piece that I’m going
to share to you today, and I was kind of frustrated
in the fact that, like, there are so many resources
at the Library of Congress, yet we’re not taught
most of them in school. So, I spent a lot
of time looking at Japanese internment
camp which is something that I didn’t hear in my history
classes, even AP history class. That’s something that you
don’t get to hear about, and it’s something that’s such a
big part of our culture and part of our history, but there
are so many factors, pieces of history
that we’re missing. There were so many stories
that are stolen from us by the collectors and the
curators and the people who kind of tell the stories
for other people. So, this is a poem about that. We are who we collect. We consist of the countries
and the cultures we focus on, a long lineage of a fight
song yet to be passed down. I was nine and unknowing that
injustice lay on the wrong side of the right tracks
in the south side of a city I was not born in. Ignorance is bliss
if you never learn, but something inside me burned
to not be set in my ways. I never met a craftsman who spent a lifetime
transforming tradition in a public worship but private
faith, singing siren songs of social significance with
the high and wholesome sound. These contemporary legends. Local lore lures in the
hopes of the people in places where they need it most,
but I wish, I hope, and I pray they will come
to see the light of day, seeing the rose with its
thorns, understanding the world through my eyes with the same
shape and a similar size, having seen horrors
you cannot imagine, images you cannot fathom. I’m 17 now, and I know. I’ve learned that the collectors
of cultures create the way that we live our lives, framing
a world with a Eurocentric view so people like me and you
are cut out of the picture. At the end of the day, we must
decide our duty and do it well, remembering for them, it is
not history in the making but history for the taking,
taking our memories from me, stories that I will
never get to see, stolen stories and lives lost. Forgotten are my people. Churches, chapels, and steeples
are staples of their history, but for people like
you and me, collectors and curators decided our fate. Forgotten are the stories of our
race because we were too dark to be given a seat at the table. But, I’m well and able to use
my voice, speaking in tongues of unconventional
English to ask, “How the hell do
we keep so silent?” [ Applause and Cheering ]>>Marjan Naderi: I, too,
am also short like Amina, and not as tall as Jordan. Hello, everyone. My name is Marjan Naderi, and this is a piece
inspired by my mother. We are from Afghanistan, our
family, and so, it was like, I need to write a
poem about food. And, I had no idea
what to write about. And then, that day,
I went downstairs. My mom had this amazing
dish of [inaudible] palau, and if you guys haven’t had it
before, I highly recommend it. This is a piece about
[inaudible] palau. The lessons my mother taught
me while preparing dinner. With salt and pepper
hair, my mother tells me to taste my words
before I spit them out. Her tongue is seasoned with
more spice than her kabobs. Her hands only know the language of making mantu off
her mother’s menu. So, heritage runs down the
throat and into the bloodline. Her favorite home
is the kitchen. The sun melts good
morning through blindfolds. Hands craft the creation of
food with more than love. They cook with wisdom. She taught me lessons through
cooking [inaudible] palau, gave me the recipe as she said, “The work of your hands is
how you shape the world, and before washing your
hands, make [inaudible].” Watch sins run down the drain so they don’t end
up in other’s foods. Make [inaudible]
with river water, but swim against the current
[inaudible] drips down elbows for ten cups of holy water. The ocean on your
tongue is a language. You break the rocks in its path, make it two tablespoons
of sea salt. Strain your spine when you stand
in something you believe in. If they tug, pull on the roots of your grandfather’s
string to four carrots. There are borders you
cannot cross by foot. Take the grains of desert sand and make it a kilogram
of rosewater rice. When carrying the weight
of a crumbling country on your shoulders, you do
not dust off its foundation. Rather, surrender to its
sweetness for five tablespoons of honey, bent elbows,
bent knees, but nothing but a prayer and pocket. Pushed, picked, plucked
grapes of survival from vines strangling a
future worth striving for. Dry up the bittersweet taste
of toil for a cup of raisins. Cook all ingredients
together for two hours. With stories of ancestors
folded in the creases of my mother’s palms,
she holds a plate of [inaudible] palau,
fresh off the stove. Steam opening her pores,
a mountain of brown rice, glistening sweet carrots
and raisins at its peak, she tells me about
my grandmothers. How one palm held poetry,
the other pomegranates. Said, “This dish
echoes fingerprints into the hearts of
our ancestors.” My mother taught me to
create with more than love, to promise a fruitful
future of family. She taught me to cook with
history, and there’s something so emulsifying about a table
of food that makes history seem so easy to taste, to
touch [Afghan word]. [ Applause ]>>Takier George:
I’m the tallest, so. Thank you. Yeah. Hi, everyone. My name is Takier George. I’m an 11th grader at Wakefield
High School, and I’m a part of the Wakefield Poetry Club
and the Wakefield LTAP Team. This piece is titled “Purple
Roses and Red Daisies”. Purple roses and red daisies. I want them to be a part of
me, so I swallow their seeds, hoping they grow in
the pit of my stomach so people don’t see
the overload. Only the purple roses
and red daisies. I want my stretch marks to grow
into their veins, that way, there’d be a logical
reason to cut them off. Those purple roses
and red daisies. I want to pick apart the petals. He loves me, he loves me
not will replace my heart that was covered by dirt
anyway from being stepped on by too many purple
roses and red daisies. I need them around my legs. That way, the space
I’m told I take up will become a
beautiful landmark filled with purple roses
and red daisies. They would take over my body
as if I’m the last piece of land unmarked, just
fertile enough to be filled. Not fertile enough to be felt. Just intoxicating
enough to be pollen. Not intoxicating
enough to be praised. Just pretty enough
to be blossom. Not pretty enough
to be beautiful. They say the most beautiful
things come from the grounds, so I pick them, pick them until beautiful is the
only word to describe me. Doesn’t matter if I suffocate
in the process, I’m beautiful. People can’t help but breathe
in my insecurities and breathe out my love, but who am I to
deprive them from all this hurt, all this beautiful hurt. I surround myself with
purple roses and red daisies that make me question
their existence, question my own existence
because what am I without them which is to say nothing. I can still feel them hold me so tight you’d think
they were the ones that broke me in
the first place. Sometimes, if I say their
names three times fast, I can still see them. [fast] Purple roses
and red daisies. Purple roses and red daisies. Purple roses and red daisies. So real I still have
the marks to show you. They called it love. I called it isolation. I never looked for
love in them anyway, but they took away any chance of
me looking for it anywhere else. As long as I looked pretty on
the outside, I’d find a way to feel good on the
inside, right? I wanted them to be a part
of me, and now they are. Those purple roses
and red daisies. I don’t know how long
I thought I could live in the field turned
fairy tale turned fences of purple roses and red daisies. I just wanted them to
disappear some days. To remind me of what I was
trying to hide, what I made them up in the first place. But, does it even matter if
they were never actually there, and you could always
see all of me anyways? Purple roses and red daisies,
purple roses and red daisies, purple roses and red daisies. Thank you. [ Applause and Cheering ]>>Amina Fatima: The first time
someone told me I was American, I was seven, and I
thought they were stupid. The first time someone compared
my dad to Osama Bin Laden, I was ten, and I was furious. And, the first time someone
called me a terrorist, I was 13 years old, and
to be more specific, it was my 13th birthday. I remember my voice
shrinking in shock that someone could have
the audacity to even utter such words around
me, better yet at me. My face red and hot, I
remember my eyes welling up with tears, tears
of frustration. When you look at me, you may
see an opportunity to ask, “Where are you from?”, but
that gives me the opportunity to stare directly back at
you and answer, “Here.” It’s confusing that
you are upset at me now for sitting during the
pledge, and you tell me to act more American,
as if it wasn’t you who made me think I’m not
American in the first place. But, I guess that’s why
you use the word “act”. It’s almost funny how my
hijab is something you refer to as just a piece of cloth, but
if I were to say the same thing to you about your flag, it would
make your hands form into fists and fingers wrap
around the trigger. I don’t understand when
the change happened, when your switch flipped
from being so dead set on stripping me of any desire
of calling myself American to shaming me for not
claiming this country as my own, as my home. I don’t know what made you want
me, what made you think twice about spitting me out. Maybe it was the power
that I’m slowing gaining. Maybe it’s the way my hijab
flows in the wind like a cape or like rapid hummingbird wings
making the noise of revolution. Or, maybe, it was the fear of getting stepped
on by your own shoe. Growing up, I was
taught to keep quiet, to never cause any disruptions,
but I was also taught to always tell the truth. And, I don’t know which to do
anymore because the words truth and disruption have
become synonymous. I was also taught to never make
anyone uncomfortable, but see, the thing is that if this makes
you uncomfortable, you are part of the problem that
I am trying to fix. You expect me to pledge
allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, the country that has
been rejecting my family since the first day
they got here. The flag, that piece of cloth
that you hold as close to you as if it were a piece of your
identity, and maybe it is. And, maybe I can respect that,
but if and only when you learn that this piece of cloth
on my head is as holy to me as your flag is to you, and if
America is what you say it is, then there’s nothing, nobody
more American than me, than these words that have
traveled so far and so long to get here, through oceans
of ink and roads of paper and God knows through
how many red lights. There’s nothing more American
than the desire of change and standing up for
what you believe in. Thank you. [ Applause and Cheering ]>>Jordan Shaibani: According
to society, my weight has less to do with health and more to do with happiness, but
never my own. It’s of the others
surrounding me, making me see a rounder
version of me. I was told that there’s
something wrong with you if you don’t fit
into a size two, that perfection doesn’t
come in a large, and there is no happy medium because I should not
be happy in a medium. I didn’t know I was fat until my
fourth grade teacher told me I’d lost weight. I didn’t know I had
anything to lose. I was blindly and
blissfully unaware of the stares I got
in crowded hallways. They used to joke I was
taking up the entire walkway. I’ve been told that my
weight is weighing me down, from my potentials,
from my goals, that all my problems
would be fixed if only I had six less
inches around my waist, three less centimeters
around my face, a little less here,
and a lot less there. As if true happiness is
just beyond the glass scale, that I am not worth
anything until a machine on my bathroom floor says so. Girls like me don’t
get to be loved. My contentedness is
unearned, undeserved. I’ve been conditioned to count
calories instead of sheep. No wonder I can’t sleep. I can’t close my eyes without
feeling the weight of my thighs. The pressure of being
watched by 1000 eyes. When did we get to the point
where confidence is so fragile that it is built and
broken with the same breath, within the confines of other’s
comments and compliment, where delight cannot
exist without diet, where food is more synonymous
with failure than fuel, and where the only definition
for beautiful is skinny? [ Applause and Cheering ]>>Marjan Naderi: In an
alternate heaven of refugees, my people no longer
kiss their ears to soil, hoping to hear the hums
of an ancestry that lived. Here, power cannot
twist our tongues and tie them around our throats. But, I can’t rewrite
history the way they did because America knows what
it did, how they sold stories of our freedom, our bravery,
and claimed it as their own. But, here, America can’t stain
our white [inaudible] ruby red because here, there
are no borders. Do not call us dead. Call us alive because
now we have the right to exist everywhere. Whether we call it home or
mosque or church or synagogue or human love, if it grows here,
it knows its place in history. If it’s born here, this
land will love you back in this heaven. We whisper our own
names in prayer. A law rewinds every bullet. All the boys win
the soccer match. Trophies get washed up on
seashores instead of the bodies of children who knew how
to swim but couldn’t. But, there, missiles bang like an orchestra
singing forgotten names. There, oppression
became muscle memory. There, I was denied an
education, so I learned to count the dead and multiply
body counts by the hour there. My younger brother cried prayers over my dead body every time he
saw a piece of me disintegrate to powder of [inaudible]. But, Brother, I wasn’t there. I was here. Here, rather than throwing
rocks at soldiers, we toss rocks into rivers to watch
the ripplings of recovery feed every
thirsty body here. My mother’s Yemeni
grace pours upon me. My father’s laugh lives in the
olive trees of [inaudible]. Sockets of hope grow from
[inaudible] soil here. I chant the Somali anthem here. The winds sing it back. Lullabies that were once
missiles are now my sister’s voice echoing in the
mountains of Afghanistan. I earned this paradise by
a death I did not deserve because someone somewhere
prayed the pieces of our ancestry would
rest in peace. [ Applause and Cheering ]>>Takier George:
Grandmother always told me that my body is a
temple, respect it, but Grandmother isn’t from here. She don’t know how, how my
skin imitates tree bark, how my skin imitates life. Grandmother must not
know how they cut down life every day
to make white paper. Grandmother don’t know the black
bark makes good for white paper. She only knows that my body
is a temple, respect it. Grandmother don’t know that
I go to school every day to repaint black bark
back onto white paper. She is foreign, but
so is white paper. Grandmother must not
know the white boy in my class is foreign
to black bark. She must not know how no matter
how many times I spell my name out for him, it will
never stick. Maybe black names
absolve into white paper like foreign bodies
dissolve into white culture. I mean, white vultures. I mean, don’t you know the white
birds have always found home in black trees. Maybe that’s why black girls
like me find home on white paper that dissolves long enough to
keep us silent for a lifetime. The white boy in my class
can’t pronounce my name, but he speaks fluent
in the forestation. I’ve watched him white out, I
mean wipe out a whole nation. Blame it on the cost for
education, but the white boy in my class still doesn’t
know my pronunciation. Grandmother is a god-fearing
woman, but she’s not from here. She says my body’s a
temple, respect it. First Corinthians 6:19. Do you know that your bodies are
temples of Holy Spirit who is in you whom you have
received from God. You are not your own. Grandmother may not be
from here, but she sure as hell knew what
she was saying. She’s right. I’m not my own. Maybe I belong to the
white boy in my class who can’t pronounce my name. Maybe I belong on
his white paper. Maybe I should be disappearing
like black trees do. But, Grandmother always told me that my body is a
temple, respect it. So, I do. Because
all of me is temple. All of me is holy. My name must be so holy
it burns his tongue. Maybe that’s it. Or, maybe it’s the respect
part he can’t handle. Maybe his respect dissolved
for me in his white paper, too. Does it really matter? Just know that the
thought of me scares him. Scares him to the point that he
sees me more blank than black. Although people have
always had a tendency of being afraid of the dark. My grandmother always told me that my body is a
temple, respect it. So, I do because Lord knows the
white boy in my class won’t. [ Applause and Cheering ]>>Amina Fatima: So,
this poem has a title. Shocker. This piece is titled
“An Ode to Kindergarten”. I want to write a
poem for the moment that my five-year-old self
walked into that classroom, the moment that my
eyes lit up as bright as the multicolored alphabet
letters strung across the room or the cartoon characters on the
reading rug or for the moment that I found my purple
butterfly name tag, Amina. I heard a voice over my
shoulder, and I looked up to see a tall and
firm looking woman. She was not smiling. She had this look on her face
as if she could see everything that my future held, everything
that I’d grow up to be. She said, “I’m Miss Powers,”
and then it all made sense. Because, I mean, her collar
looked like the perfect cover up under which she’d tie
her cape, and the reflection of myself that I could see
in her glasses made me feel like she had probably just read
my mind and seen all there was to see about me, all
there every would be, could be, to see one day. And, her powerful aura,
radiating strength and bravery, made me wonder if maybe she
was Kindergarten teacher by day and super hero by night. But, today, I stand
here and realize that she was full-time
super hero because to be teacher
is to be super hero. In her classroom, I
learned how to count. I learned that I had to count to ten three times while
washing my hands for them to actually be clean again. I learned that scissors are
tricky to use and cutting on the lines is not always
the easiest, but failing to do so doesn’t make you
any less than the kid who got it right the first time. She taught me how to
swing between syllables and sounds the way
Spiderman swings from building to building. I learned, I tried. From building to building, and
today, I stand here and realize that she gave me a gift. Because to teach me how
to read and rhyme and play with syllables and sounds was to
teach me how to tell my story. I learned that magic
forms on paper, and I can be the magician,
my crayons be my wand, and my alphabet stickers
my spell. With Miss Powers, I learned
how to describe things like the bumpy, scaly, orange
skin of our classroom fish. I learned that if someone is
sitting alone during snack time, it is nice to extend a
friendly hand, but with that, I also learned about
peanut allergies. And, I learned that
if you try hard enough to fall asleep during nap time, you might even have
a good dream. She made me recognize
the word “powers”, but only because it was her name and also the first thing I saw
every morning as I walked in. Big, bold, blue letters hanging above the glass window
on the wooden door. It made me want to put
my name up there, too. Made me wonder how much
growing up I still had left to do before I could be that
important, important enough for my name to be the start
of someone’s day, every day. It’s been 12 years, and 12
years ago, I didn’t know. Twelve years ago, I didn’t
know I’d be a hijabi. I didn’t know I’d be a poet. Twelve years ago, I didn’t know
I’d become a hijabi poet whose finger painting skills
would progress into using words
to paint portraits. And, I don’t know if Miss Powers
knew of if Miss Holiday did. I don’t know if Miss G saw this
coming or if Miss Wright did. But, it’s been 12
years, and today, I carry with me 12 years
worth of super powers. Thank you. [ Applause and Cheering ]>>Jordan Shaibani:
I love you more than you can ever understand. You’ve taught me that
tough people last longer than tough times with
a back bearing a burden of emotional baggage that
still remains unseen. Obscene is what I once
thought the word used to describe the image that’s
scraped across my mind. But, every time I’ve learned that in time, everything
is healed. Soon, I hope to heal you, too, make you understand just
how special you are. As we watch the stars
in the heavens moved on the very first night that
I met you, hands itching to be held together until they
snapped together like magnets. A strong connection, an
invisible force that pulls me in and keeps me close. I may not be able to hold
you in my hands forever, but I’ll hold you in my heart. And, one day, when we part,
inches will become miles, and the distance that separates
us will become exponential, but our potential for
love is limitless. I’m proud to say that I
felt love in this way, love deeper than oceans, love
that makes me no longer feel like I’m lying when I tell
you those three words. You’ve grown into the
perfection, set a standard so high that only
you can reach it. You weren’t what
I was looking for, but you were just what I needed. I only wish I can make the days
with you last a little longer, that I could hold onto you a
little tighter because I hate that I have to let you go. [ Applause and Cheering ]>>Marjan Naderi: Hello. Marjan again here on the stage. This is the piece that was
inspired by the archives. To the men in Afghanistan
who claim themselves teacher, my mother tells me how she
never learned to spell her name as a child, how education sifted
in her throat like sandpaper because all you teachers
were male. How fear is the coldest
thing in Afghanistan, yet it burns the hearts of
mothers who send their daughters to school, knowing girls
must sacrifice their body for an education, knowing
if she raises her hand, she must soon cover her eyes. For the way an identity
become nothing but a lifeless spirit
for you to feast on. The red hijab she wraps around
her head is not tight enough. You want it around her mouth,
for her to tie that tongue, to bite the screams
as they come, for her to wipe the tears
before the blood dries. When you make her bleed, do
you fancy yourself chosen? Tell the mosque how
you split the red sea. If you wear a mask long enough, it becomes an extra
layer of skin. Eventually, you cannot pick it
away the same way you’ve picked at women’s souls by the white
beards you call so pure. Where do you find your
daughter’s souvenirs? In the grave you
buried her screams in? Underneath the mosque you
claimed as your castle? Do you raise them up when
you need proof of prophecy, when you forget her name, when
you forget my mother’s name? How do you remember
the 99 of God? [ Applause and Cheering ]>>Takier George: So, this
piece was the one inspired by the archives. It was inspired by the
archives about calypso, and one thing I found when
I was listening to them was that they were really funny, but
also it was really sad if you, like, really looked
at the lyrics. So, this poem is titled
“This is Calypso”. Have you ever heard a
Trinidadian sing a sad song? Me neither. But, I have heard a sad
Trinidadian sing a song. My father is a pan player. Maybe, if we begged I
play some for you, too. You never hear us play
a depressing tune, that’s for sure. It’s not in our DNA to
upset a paying customer. Smile’s edged on my
face is still present. You think we painted
them that way. By the end of the
night, we play them away. Those Trinidadians aren’t shy. They wear their hurt
in their voice, especially when they sing,
use the notes as bandages. It’s just a matter of listening. I watched my father turn his
unhappy life into a melody, become a satire of a
song, call it calypso. No, those Trinidadians
aren’t shy, but wounded. You can hear it in the
music, in the rhymes. All you have to do is listen, stay in this tunnel
a little longer. Calypso is being so exposed
that people forget to look. They laugh, never
truly knowing why. Only that you’re supposed to
laugh at someone else’s pain. Just ask Lord and Vader. He’ll sing you a melody so
sweet you’ll forget to listen to the tears as they
drop like a back beat. Yes, my mother dead and
my father disown me. What am I to do. But had people laughing
by the next verse. This is calypso. Listen and weep. Most don’t know they’re
allowed to. Neither do the artists. My father sure didn’t
know, and sometimes, I worry that I inherited
that same trait. Use my standards
as masking tape. Showed you my heart and then
covered it in the same instance. It’s not in our DNA to be shy. I’m not a calypsonian, but
I could have fooled you. Inserted puns instead
of punches in my poems, included comedy instead of
crying, covering every scar that was too painful
to talk about. So, I don’t fault you for
seeing us more comedian than breathing artist. It’s not in your DNA. Not like we didn’t
ridicule the situation until it looked more notes than
tears, more sound, less fear, more laughs, less cry. Just open your eyes. This is calypso. The entertainment we give you. So, when, in return,
you laugh, we smile. Edge of my face is so present,
you think we painted them because what else are
we supposed to do? We wear our hurt in our voice, especially when we
sing or play or write. It’s all the same. It’s just a matter of listening. It’s honestly all laid out
for you, so who do we blame? The artist for being
so deceitful or you for not listening? Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Alexa Patrick: Get up. Give it up for all
those poets again. [ Applause and Cheering ] Aren’t they fantastic? [ Applause ] My name is Alexa Patrick. I have the honor of
being the Head Coach for the D.C. Youth Slam Team, and it has been absolutely
wonderful. I spend hours on hours
with them every week, and even just seeing these
performances, I’m still in awe. It’s funny. Like, I never get tired of it. I want more, please. Okay. So, we’re actually headed into our third week
of practices. In these practices, the
poets have had a chance to write these really wonderful,
beautiful, nuanced pieces, and in addition, also have
some really interesting and engaged conversations,
engaging dialog about these really challenging
topics, as you have all seen. And, I think that that is
really what this event is about, in many ways, the dialog. It’s been an absolutely. I don’t know. It’s just been so inspiring
watching you all engage with these archives, see how
it applies to your own lives, and then take it and
create something out of it. And then, read it in
front of all of you. So, then, that kind of
puts the action on you to not let these
poems end here, right? This is just the
beginning of something. This is the beginning of a
conversation of a dialog. So, if you see something or
if you saw something today that moved you, that challenged
you, please go out and talk to these poets or
talk to someone else. Share what you have heard
today because it’s important, and I know the team and I
would be honored to just be at the start of a conversation or a continuation of
this conversation. So, thank you all. Thank you all. Anyway, I was wondering,
and you can let me know, if it’s okay if I do a poem. [ Applause and Cheering ] Okay. I’m so happy you said yes. It would have been so
awkward if you were like, “No! Get off the stage!” Okay. A letter to the white
music major who told me I didn’t
understand jazz. I bet you think Elvis Presley
was a great songwriter. I bet the musical “Hamilton”
introduced you to hip hop. I bet you spent too much money on an education you could have
gotten from just listening. To hands busy, scraping
together money, food, something to live on, hands that
still find time to keep rhythm. Just listen. To feet that bleed into tips
of shoes after long hours of working or escaping
and still finding joy and flirting with a dance floor. Or, imagine a mouth kept quiet
all day, opening to sing, [singing] “Why you
want to fly, Blackbird? You ain’t never going to fly.” And, this all in the living
room, furniture pushed aside so grown folks can do
what grown folks do. This a kitchen where nighttime
chores turn moonlit symphonies. This is jazz. What they teach you
at your university? They hand you notes
on a page, say here. Billie Holiday was out
showing you the strange fruit that made her voice
a bleeding trumpet. They teach you Coltrane wrote
considering strange scales without weighing the
cacophony of burning churches. Jazz at its root, underground
tracks leading black bodies away from fire. Reduce that to a classroom,
and I do not understand. University is a temporary
shelter for those who can afford it. My people barely
permitted in its facilities until 50 years ago, our names
fill your curriculums even when we’re not on your rosters. We created our own. Our jazz is a home, a door wide
open, crumbling institutions with the audacity of making
music out of its dust. Just listen to us, to me, who
you told didn’t understand. When I, too, have seen
everything burning. I, too, have felt lost in a
place I lived my entire life, when every day, I was ugly because nobody heard
me beautiful. It was jazz that lifted
my chin to its mirror. Show me how black folks spin
sorrow into spaces for living, into rooms without ash. I am that music. Descendant of people who build
what they are told they cannot have, a home, a stage,
a voice, and you tell me that I don’t understand. But, no. This is mine. Thank you. [ Applause and Cheering ]>>Michelle Stefano: Wow. I don’t know about you,
but I’m speechless. Awe-inspiring, indeed. So, everyone, give it up for
Alexa Patrick one more time. [ Applause and Cheering ] And, Marjan, Amina,
Takier, Jordan. [ Applause ] So, I’ve been so lucky to
work with them for a couple of weekends here at the American
Folklife Center at the library. You guys are so inspiring,
what you’ve done with what you listened
to and read and the conversations we had. They’re just going to take down
the world, you and I, right? [laughter] So, I’m sure a
lot of you have questions. I definitely want to
know about your processes or how you write
your poems and come up with these beautiful ideas. And, the funny thing is not
every one of your poems, obviously, was inspired
by the archives, but they all have something to
do with culture and identity and expression and misidentity. All right. So, I promised you guys
that I would write a poem. [ Cheering ] Okay. And, I took the
challenge literally. I am definitely rhyming. So, it’s a little old school. I will say, when I
was in high school, Dorothy Parker was
one idol of mine. I thought she was super
smart and super cool. I still do. So, this is a bit of a nod
to her with the rhyming. I am taking a cue from you guys. When I do research in the
archives, I’m one area, one type of collection
I love to look at are letters, correspondence. So, this is all about that. It’s called “Behind the
Scenes”, so it has a title. Or, “Ode to the AFC
Correspondence Files”. The stories of some older
collections preserved at the AFC are pieced
together in correspondence, tracing how they came to be. Stretched out over years and
months, not even weeks or days, people, well, often men,
would have one conversation, out of sync with delays. Oceans would move these
letters, and later, old school propeller
planes from cities and towns across continents to
D.C. and back again. Typed with typos, cross-outs,
smudges, and cursive platitudes, these semi-translucent
onionskin letters weigh heavy with official moods. Sometimes, these men were angry,
expressing frustration over VIT. That is very important things,
earmarked for posterity. Where is the recording
equipment you’re lending to capture this rare,
sacred song? Four months later. It’s on the next
boat out of New York. It really shouldn’t
be that long. That was supposed to be funny. [laughter] Other times, there
is great warmth for the making of far flung friends, a
vast web of researchers and documentations
whose past work to you we, today, recommend. Though my favorite
letters to leaf through and draw inspiration
from are those that reveal the women whose
stories history left undone. The unnamed and named wives of
the letter writers and those who were on their own, they,
too, were the researchers, field workers, and collection
creators and assistants, but it’s in the details
behind the scenes. The stamped and post
marked remnants where their contributions
are no longer unknown. Thank you. [ Applause and Cheering ] Thank you guys. So, I shall welcome all of you,
Alexa the coach and the team up here, and we’ll have a
couple of general questions. Ask them, and then,
it’ll be open for everyone else to learn more. Okay. So, maybe Alexa,
we’ll start with you, and everyone can hear
us, or me, right? Okay. Good. It’s hard to tell. I will be asking all of you
this because I’m so curious, but what brought you to poetry? Why is it, I assume,
important to you?>>Alexa Patrick: What
brought me to poetry? Well, I was always a little
bit of a rule breaker. When it came to language
and identity, I was always very noisy, and
I liked having the ability and the freedom to write what
I wanted in poetry and be who I wanted in poetry., I felt
like poetry was, it was a way for me to express
myself in the way that I wanted to express myself. It wasn’t, it was a
way for me to be free. And so, that’s kind of
what brought me to it. So, I always, I loved it so
much as a little girl, and then, when I got into college and I started doing the Slam
Team stuff, and now I coach. So, it’s been an
interesting journey, but I feel like it’s a way
for me to be free, in a way. Yeah.>>Michelle Stefano: Marjan?>>Marjan Naderi: Yes, hello. I began writing because I
wanted to document my identity, and I feel like that was really
important because so often, a lot of identities that I do
hold are shoved to the back of the closet or not
brought onto the stage or people are just not
willing to hear it. And so, if people aren’t
willing to hear it, I might as well write
about it, right? And, through writing and the
years that I have been writing and I have been performing,
I’ve noticed that I’m beginning to latch onto those
identities and more cling them, more be proud of them,
more represent them. And so, that’s something that
continues to keep me writing, and it’s something that’s very,
now, natural to my process of understanding myself.>>Takier George: So,
when I was younger, my mother said I was a
very talkative child, and I think that, like,
stayed in elementary school because I feel like after
elementary school, it was, like, tough for me to talk. And, poetry was, like, sort of
that outlet, because you got to express yourself, but it was
your choice if anyone, like, actually saw it or not. And, eventually, of course,
people got to see it. That didn’t really
happen until high school when I started doing,
like, open mics and slams and found my school’s
poetry team. But, poetry really
did a lot for me, so.>>Amina Fatima: Wow. So, I feel like everyone
had really deep and heartfelt answers,
but because I started. I started writing when I
was really, really little, and I was in second grade when I took my first
attempt at writing a poem. And, it was because my
father is a poet and writes and so is my older sister. And, both of the, I have always,
always, always looked up to them in every aspect of every way. And, I think when I was in
second grade when I picked up a pencil and tried to
write a poem, it wasn’t even about writing the
poem for me at first. It was just trying to be more
like them, and as I wrote it, and they supported me in it. And, I continued writing. Wasn’t good back then,
but yeah, I stumbled and stumbled and
have gotten here. And, in high school is
when things took a turn for being serious, and
I started to perform in freshman year of high school. And, yeah.>>Do you remember
what it was about? The first poem?>>Amina Fatima: My first? Yeah. My first poem ever, or
my first performed poem was about being bullied in seventh
grade and a miserable year that has left its impacts on me.>>Jordan Shaibani:
I think anyone who really knows me
knows that I talk a lot. I always have, like,
a lot to say. I think with poetry, I’ve
been able to find a space where I can kind of
corral the thoughts that either no one wants
to hear or I don’t know to perfectly articulate. I think that most of my
thoughts rush me in, like, little phrases, and I can kind
of piece them together and kind of get a good perspective, like,
what I’m trying to say or, like, what’s sticking in
the back of my mind through the things
that I’m writing. It was something
that I kind of did. Trying out for this team,
specifically, was something that I kind of did on a whim. I was thinking about how I was
going to be a senior next year and thinking about, like, what are the things I
want to do in college. Like, what are the things that
I will regret as an adult? Because something my dad
always said is he had a dream of being a pilot
when he was younger. And, he was like, “I’m just
going to do it when I have time to do it,” and he never
had time to do it. So, I wrote down
a list of things that I thought I would regret,
and I had a unit at school where we did poetry, and
I really, really enjoyed and I found such a
safe space with it. And so, I was like, “I’ll
do this poetry thing, and like, see what happens.” And, I’m so glad I did because
I found such a good community and such a safe space. Not just within the people
who do slam, but just, like, with this group of
women specifically. I found such a home with them. I know that means a
lot to me, but yeah.>>Michelle Stefano:
And, I should point out if this wasn’t already, you all are so accomplished
in poetry. And, you all auditioned
to be on this team. And, I also want to point
out that Marjan last year, you’re the 2018 champion at
the National Book Festival here at the Library of Congress. So, yeah. Congratulations
on that. [ Applause ] That brings us, idea, you know, of poetry slams are
generally competitions. And so, how is that element? Because today was just
really a showcase. Everyone was friendly. No fights until later. But. What is the element of
competition in poetry? How does that work,
and is it for show or?>>Marjan Naderi: Honestly,
like, from, at the slams that I’ve been at and the
people that I’ve competed with, aside from, like, the
international slam because people prepare
months for it. Like, people really
want to win that one. But, honestly, like,
the slams itself, it’s been a rally supportive and open environment
amongst the poets, too, even if they are competing. And so, that’s just
so incredible because people are coming
forth to slam for the sake of the platform,
rather than a title. So, that’s what I’ve
noticed at least. If you guys have
any more comments.>>Takier George: Same here. The thing about slams
that scare me is, like, when they show the scores. If I didn’t get to see the
scores, I would be fine. Because, like she
said, like, it’s just, like a supportive
group of people. So, either way, I know
I’m going to be fine. I’m sharing a part
of me with them, and I know they’ll
accept me, so.>>Yeah.>>Yeah.>>Jordan Shaibani: I think
poetry in general is one of those things you have to
come into a really open mindset with it, and that’s the
great thing about slams is that everyone there is so
open and willing to listen to everything that
you have to say. So, the community is really
nice because no matter what, at the end of the day,
you’re there for each other. And, poetry in general is
very, or just all types of writing is very
subjective, I feel. So, I think that with,
when you do poems, regardless of how you score,
you know how that meant to you, and you know how it feels. And, you can have poems that score differently
at different slams. It depends on who’s
the person judging. It’s not a personal thing. I think everyone knows. It’s a well understood
thing in the community where everyone knows
that, like, this is, like, they know how much work
they put into something. They know how much it
means to them, and so, no one takes it personally when.>>Yeah.>>Something doesn’t go right.>>Marjan Naderi:
I’ve been at slams where I’ve seen the same person
get, like a seven on a poem, and then I’ve been at other slam where they’ve done the exact
same poem exactly performance, like, almost identical,
and they, like, score tens.>>Yeah.>>Marjan Naderi: So, it’s so, the judging is never really
dependable, and I guess, poets, we always have to, like,
remind ourselves that.>>Yeah.>>Marjan Naderi: So, we’re not
judging ourselves too harshly, you know?>>Alexa Patrick: Right. So, as far as slams go,
usually, the judges are chosen at random from the audience. So, it’s really, like, a
representation of the community. So, that’s why you’ll often
see a disparity in scores. I found when I’ve either been
competing in a slam or coaching at a slam, the element of
competition serves more as motivation, as encouragement. As, like, wow, okay,
that poem was fire. It got a ten. Okay, well, when I go
back next year, let me try and up my ante a little bit
in my approach to the page. Yeah.>>Michelle Stefano:
So, I’m super curious about how you guys write
and craft your poems. Can we let you talk a little
bit more about the process, and maybe even, just recently
with using the archives here at the American Folklife Center?>>Marjan Naderi: So, I
thought [inaudible] Jordan was. She gave me the look. You know what I mean? With the archives, it was
more of, like, an exploration. And, I came in with a
completely blank mind. What could I possibly
write about? And so, we spent a couple hours, and we were looking
through things. And, there wasn’t necessarily
one specific document that I took home and
was, like, I’m going to, the entire piece will be.>>Michelle Stefano:
You can’t take it home.>>Marjan Naderi: Yeah, exactly. But, it was more
of a collective, and I think that’s so, like,
it’s incredible that we have that kind of resource
where we are able to bind together multiple
sources to produce one product. While writing it, I was, like, one click of inspiration
while I was sitting down. I was like, this is
what I will write about. And, then, from there,
it just kind of took off, and the writing was workshopped
amongst us during the past week, and that’s, it was awesome. Yes.>>Amina Fatima: Yeah, I
think the real process, like, if we’re speaking, like, actual processes is the
workshopping process. Because, or at least
for me anyways, the first draft always
comes in waves. Like, I’ll, like, either
a line will come to me and I’ll write it down, or
I’ll sit down and I’ll be going through old stuff
that I already have. And then, just three
stanzas will fly out of my pen, you know? And then, the real process
is when you’re workshopping and editing and seeing. That’s when you’re actually
putting your piece together.>>Alexa Patrick. You don’t know how happy it
makes me as a coach to hear that the real process
is in the workshopping.>>Amina Fatima: I didn’t
say I enjoy workshopping.>>Alexa Patrick: I am beaming.>>Michelle Stefano: Well, what
happens during the workshop?>>Alexa Patrick: So, usually, they print out multiple
copies of the poem. We disperse them
amongst each other. Someone else reads the poem so that the poet can
hear what the poem sounds like in someone else’s voice and
how it comes across that way. Then, the poet reads the poem,
and then the poet stays silent and listens as we all discuss
the poem and look at, really, what is this poem trying to do. Is every single line
working with that goal, with that intention, or
is it working against it? What could they do? How could they change it? And, the poet just listens and
writes down, writes notes down. The process usually
takes about one to two hours amongst all of us. So, a lot of times, people do
not find it fun at all, but, you know, group of nerds here. [ Laughter ]>>Michelle Stefano:
Shall we open it up? Does anyone out there
have any questions? Young, brilliant artists?>>I’m just curious.>>Wait, Betsy.>>You talked about [inaudible]
looking at other poems, older poems that you’ve written. Do any of you go back and
revise, like, you know, things that maybe you wrote
two or three years ago?>>Marjan Naderi:
I think art is, an artist will never be
satisfied with the final piece, and that’s so awesome. Because we’re so open to
just continuously building and using our skills
that we kind of get from the outside world and
bringing back to the paper. For myself, personally,
there’s been moments where I was, like, “Oh, my god. This poem is so fire, like
it could never be, like, better than this,” and
then, like two weeks later, I read back, and I’m like, “I could have totally
done this right here.” So, that’s what I do.>>Jordan Shaibani: I
think it’s very dependent on your mood at the time. Because I think there
have been so many poems where I’m just like,
“Oh, no, no, no.” I’m like, “This is excellent.” And, I’ll look at it, and I’m
like, “This is not English. Can’t be right.” But, it think that it is hard to be very satisfied
with your work. Even, like, looking back at
things, and being, like, oh, I could have done this. I should have said this instead. And, I feel like that’s just the
nature of, I think it’s also, like, the nature of
being a teen, too. It’s like you constantly want to
fix everything about yourself. So, I feel like there’s a lot
of editing that’s always done. Like, there’s never a point
where I’m like, “This is done. This is exactly how
I want it to be.”>>Amina Fatima: Yeah, I feel
like all the stuff or most of the stuff that I look
back on is always, like, small, unfinished blurbs.>>Yeah.>>Amina Fatima: You know. Yeah.>>Hi, ladies. You all did an amazing
job today, so I just wanted
to, first, say that. Has there ever been a topic that
was difficult to write a poem about or has there
ever been a poem that was difficult
for you to finish?>>Jordan Shaibani: I
definitely think so. I think, so I have the
[inaudible] following through. So, that may just
be, like, a me thing. But, I think there are
definitely some topics that I think are especially
hard to write about, but I think that
because slam poetry, the nature of it
is very theatrical. There’s some poems
that I’ve written that I find really
hard to share.>>Yeah.>>Jordan Shaibani: There are
a lot of poems where I’m like, this is good, but, like, I’m
going to keep this to myself because some of it is so
intimate, and it shares such a piece of yourself that
you don’t know if you’re ready. Like, there has to be a
certain point where you’re ready to share that with other people. Because some of it, I think
in poetry, it hides a lot of what you’re thinking,
what you should have said, what you think that
you should say, but you’re too scared to do it. And so, I think that, I think
slam poetry is really a lot about bravery. And so, I think that certain
moments, it’s kind of hard to kind of gather the courage
and the confidence to follow through with something
like that.>>Amina Fatima: Yeah, I
definitely feel like the, like Jordan said, like deciding
to share an intimate piece is, like, extremely difficult
at times. But, for me, I’ve also find,
like, found myself struggling to even put those intimate
thoughts onto paper at first. Like, it starts right
then and there. If I’m having difficulty,
it’s like, do I even want to
put this on paper. Like, my mind immediately
goes to, well, even if you don’t share it, what
if someone finds it, you know? Yeah.>>Takier George: I
think a lot of my, well, not a lot of my poems, but
some of my poems aren’t, like, the happiest poems. And, you know, once you get out
of that space, you don’t want to get back into it,
because, you know, it’s not a happy moment. But, like, if you’re going
to perform it on stage, something I hear a lot is,
“Remember why you wrote it.” And, that can be, like,
that can give you, like, a, that can cause a lot of emotions
to come out all at once.>>Yeah.>>Takier George: So.>>Alexa Patrick: I would
also say I think in general that it’s really important,
especially for young poets, to figure out a balance between
kind of challenging their fears and also protecting themselves. A lot of times, with spoken
word, they’ll get to a slam or they’ll get to an open mic,
and they’ll feel pressured to do a poem that they
might not be ready to do. Or, they’ll do a poem that is
really, it’s difficult to do. Maybe it’s a, you know,
something about trauma, what have you, and it’s
something that, maybe, they haven’t worked
out themselves. And so, I always say, you
know, please do not write or perform poems that you’re
not ready to write or perform because you want the
process of performing poetry and writing poetry
to be something that is cathartic,
that is welcoming. And so, sometimes, when you kind
of walk that line a little bit, it can have the opposite affect.>>Great job, everybody,
and Amina, congratulations on graduating.>>Amina Fatima: Thank you.>>Can you talk about how you
see poetry in your futures?>>What a question.>>Amina Fatima: Funny,
because I’ve been thinking about that a lot personally,
especially since I graduated. And, no, not since, like. You know what I mean. I mean, like, because of the
fact that I have, now, graduated and had been looking
forward to that point. I, like, the question
was on my mind. No, but this whole year, I
feel like it’s been not even, it’s been at the very
front of my mind, actually, because a huge part of
my, or, well, basically, my spoken word career started
freshman year of high school because of our school’s
poetry club. And, Brian Hannon. He’s Split This Rock. He’s my favorite. He’s our club sponsor and
also my AP Lit teacher. He was this year. But, I found myself questioning
how I was going to continue with it because I don’t really,
this might come as a shock, but English isn’t
my favorite subject. So, I don’t really want to
pursue anything in that. I’m trying to pursue
the medical field. And, that always comes
as a shock to everyone, especially after, like, a
performance or anything. But, I’m, so I’m still
struggling to figure out how I’m going to
find a balance between. Because I know I want
to hold onto poetry, and I don’t want to stop. And, I’m just really hoping that
I don’t lose myself in either, like, professional studies or,
like, not having enough time to, even if I do write, perform. Like, I want to continue
performing throughout. But, I don’t know if I
have a solid plan yet.>>Marjan Naderi: I asked the
exact same question to Chelsea. I was like, “Chelsea, I don’t
know what I want to do, like, medicine, or, like, poetry.” And, she was like, “Well,
with medicine a lot of time or anything amongst that
field, it’s difficult to do it a long time
when you’re on the road, a little bit far down the road. But, with poetry, you can always
hold onto it and come back to it and continue to pursue it.” So, that’s my plan. All thanks to Chelsea who gave
me the best advice in the world.>>Alexa Patrick:
I would also say that Split This Rock
does a really great job of streamlining our youth poets into their own professional
development. I know my Assistant
Coach, Brandon. Hey, Brandon. Shout out to you. Thank you so much. Is a alum of the D.C. Youth
Slam Team, has performed with Split This Rock,
is now a teaching artist and the Assistant Coach. And, there are opportunities,
especially in D.C. We have such a vibrant poetry community. So, I hope you all
know that you have.>>Marjan Naderi: We
have the resources.>>Alexa Patrick: You
have the resources. We are here.>>Michelle Stefano: Actually,
could you tell us a little bit about where one could
find open mics and slams if anyone else is interested in?>>Alexa Patrick:
Yeah, for sure. So, there’s always
Busboys and Poets. Busboys and Poets
has weekly open mics in their different locations, and the days vary
based on the location. So, you can always go to their
website and check them out. There’s also Spit Dat,
Dat with a D. And, those are on Thursday nights. Remind me where that is. It’s right by Howard University. Do you remember the? Oh, no. just kidding. Okay. Ooh, okay. Yeah, so you’re going to
have to do some researching in the archives of
the internet yourself. So, and then, there’s Real
Talk DC, [inaudible] Fridays. There really, there are lots
of opportunities every day to either witness an open mic
or perform at an open mic. And then, Split This
Rock also has Sunday Kind of Love at Busboys and Poets. We also host workshops,
and so, you can check out our website at
splitthisrock.org. It’s just a matter of
looking because we are there.>>Marjan Naderi: There’s
also youth open mics that are monthly. Putting that in for you
because I remembered. And, two really big competitions
that Split This Rock has. It’s like the best
competitions ever. It’s Hyperbole, which
is an individual slam, and there’s a scholarship
awarded which is also very exciting. And so, the finals is
always open for spectators and always blows my mind. And, that’s, like, once a year. Usually March February. And then, we have
LTAB, which is a team, Split This Rock has LTAB, which is a team competition
for high schoolers. And so, there, high
schoolers compete as a team, and they take home
the prize as a team.>>Alexa Patrick. Yeah, so yeah. That’s a great opportunity
for youth poets, and then for adults, we also
have the Art Biannual Festival. So, every two years, we have
this wonderful festival. I think it happens
for four days. I know we just released
the, oh, oh. We just released
the dates of it. And, so you can check that out. It’s days of workshops,
of readings. It’s just, it’s moving, and
that’s actually how I came into my relationship
with Split This Rock is through that festival. So, check it out. It’s happening next year.>>Michelle Stefano:
Any other questions? Okay. Well, thank
you all, again.>>Thank you.>>Jordan Shaibani:
Thank you guys. [ Applause ]>>Anya Creightney:
Hi, everyone. My name is Anya Creightney. I’m the programs manager of the
Poetry and Literature Center. It’s very formal to
be behind this thing after this fun is had over here. I just want to say thank you for
coming out, first and foremost, and here at the Poetry
and Literature Center, we know poetry has power,
as you’ve seen today. And, it has real resonance
in people’s everyday lives. So, we want to thank
our poets again today. One more master round
of applause. And, also. [ Applause and Cheering ] For Michelle at AFC, at
American Folklife Center, who generously wrote a poem,
it’s a brave thing to do. Thank you again to Michelle. Before I close it out, I do
want to say it’s enormously, enormously gratifying to
see these young poets here in the Library of Congress. For those of you who are aware,
the library is a new effort to make our resources more
visible, more reachable, more and have people
have ownership over them. So, you know, it’s my
goal and my deep hope that the youth being here
today, using the archives, will inspire you to come
to Library of Congress with your questions, with your
confusion, with your excitement, so that we can host
and share our treasure. We really have a lot of it. Millions and millions of it. But, what’s more important
is that you feel welcome here and that this is a site for you. So, if we could please say our
beautiful poet’s names out loud so that they can
feel that they are in this space even
as we waft out. I’m going to say their names. And, the last thing I’m
going to have you do is fill out paperwork because the good
old government likes these pieces of forms. They really do help us keep
this program like this alive. So, I’m going to repeat our
gorgeous poet’s names, rather. Amina. [ Applause and Cheering ] High school graduate. I do want to, wait,
say one thing. There’s a long history of
poets also being doctors. So, don’t feel that you have
to limit yourself, okay? It’s true. It’s true. Come back to the Poetry
and Literature Center, and we’ll tell you more. Okay. Takier. Round of applause. [ Applause and Cheering ] Marjan. [ Applause and Cheering ] And Jordan. [ Applause and Cheering ] Thanks, everyone for coming. Have a great afternoon.

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