June 15, 2020
By Melanie Fallas
Twenty-two student poets, four student singers and over a dozen staff, faculty and administrators from across the district logged on to Zoom on June 2 for LHS’ 18th Annual Spring Poetry Slam.
While this event was originally scheduled to take place in the media center on April 9, it was postponed and ultimately moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Junior Faiza Chowdhury, who earned an honorable mention award at the winter poetry slam, took home first place at the spring poetry slam for her poem “Brown Mom.”
“I do feel pretty stunned that I could go from an honorable mention to first place,” Chowdhury said. “At the moment that I heard the placements, I just raised my eyebrows in shock because I never really thought I would place at all.”
Chowdhury said the inspiration for her poem came from the person who inspires her in every way: her mother.
“She is the most interesting and intelligent person I know, and I feel passionate when writing about our personal relationship and her journey as a Bengali immigrant,” Chowdhury said.
Chowdhury said she did not mind that the poetry slam took place online.
“Since it was virtual, I felt a lot more comfortable writing about topics that I wouldn’t have written about had we stayed in school: racism, the struggles of the first generation women, etcetera,” Chowdhury said.
While she is glad to have won first place, Chowdury said she would be happy and grateful to participate in future poetry slams regardless of whether or not she receives an award.
“It’s an amazing experience that I encourage anyone that feels they have something to say to take part in,” Chowdury said.
“I love to hear the emotion and be able to connect with what people write. Poetry allows for all voices to be heard.”
Freshman Samantha May captured second place for her poem titled “nobody listens to the listener.” Like Chowdhury, May said she was surprised to hear her name announced among the winners.
“I submitted my poem without the intention of winning but rather just to share it with others and see the work of everyone else,” May said.
She said her poem was inspired by the loneliness some people experience as well as her personal relationships.
“I wrote this piece under frustration with myself and with relationships. I figured that some of us are so lonely in our pain yet so willing to listen to the pain of others,” May said. “I wanted to bring awareness to the listener mindset and wanted to encourage people to listen to the listener.”
May said she began writing poetry when she was in middle school because it provided her with an outlet for her creativity and emotions.
“I feel like I’m able to understand myself and create my tragedies into art with poetry,” May said. “I’m very satisfied with the outcome of this slam, and I will continue to participate in them.”
Sophomore Stephanie Cerrito, who earned third place for her lighthearted poem “Disney Girl,” said she could not believe she earned an award for her Disney-inspired poem.
“I was shocked…. I thought my poem was cute, but I was not anticipating placing at all,” Cerrito said. “My family and I go to Disney World at least once a year. I grew up with Disney, so I truly am a ‘Disney Girl,’ so to speak.”
Despite her participation in the winter poetry slam, Cerrito said she still felt nervous while waiting for her turn to read.
“I can’t really say why I was anxious, but I had to turn my video off after my presentation because I kept shaking,” Cerrito said.
She said she participated in the winter poetry slam to earn extra credit in English class but wound up enjoying the experience.
“I want other students to understand how awesome it is to be a part of the poetry slams. It is a safe place where everyone’s voice can be heard,” Cerrito said. “I love to hear the emotion and be able to connect with what people write. Poetry allows for all voices to be heard.”
Supervisor Ms. Klein, who worked with English teacher Ms. Pastor to organize and host the slam, said since the event could not happen in person, she was glad it could take place online.
“I think poetry is a great opportunity and way for students to express their feelings whether personal or political,” Klein said. “I think it’s great that they see there is a community and safe place for them. I appreciate all their viewpoints.”
Klein, who pioneered the poetry slams at the high school, said another reason she did not want to cancel the event amidst the pandemic is because she loves to hear the truths that students share in their poems.
“Every time I feel inspired. [The winter and spring poetry slams] are like my two favorite days,” Klein said. “I’m so thankful for Ms. Pastor for taking over the reins and planning such an amazing event and the virtual booklet.”
While the judging panel—which consisted of English Teachers Ms. Burns and Mrs. Falco, business and accounting teacher Mrs. Jankowski and retired public speaking teacher Mr. Snyder—deliberated, chorale members senior Sabrina Cilento and sophomores JJ Akman, Alexis O’Rourke and Sarah Rose Sammarone performed.
In addition to the top three award winners, all of the following poems earned honorable mention recognition: “What The Willow Tree Knows” by junior Andrea Aguirre, “Life is Like A Bike” by sophomore Francesca Castagnetti and “please don’t kill yourself” by Cilento.
Below, you can find the text of Chowdhury’s “Brown Mom,” which earned her first place.
The brown mom doesn’t say “I love you.”
No, she won’t let you party in your own home with beer that she bought.
No, she won’t let you stay out until 4 a.m. without a phone call home.
No, she won’t let you stay home from school because you’re nervous.
The brown mom’s love comes in
Dragging you to family parties with only your little cousins for company,
With smelly, ugly, uncool “brown” food
That she knows you will eventually grow to love.
Because it is part of her, and it will be a part of you.
Her love comes in
Spamming you with phone calls when you’re not home by 8,
Because her heart hurts and burns and stings in intense pain
Until she can see you safe again.
She knows you don’t understand why,
She knows that one day you will.
Her love comes in
Pushing you to be the best,
Because she knows more than anyone
That success for a woman with brown skin
Takes more ambition than you could ever imagine.
She knows you are tired, but she hopes that when you’re her age,
You’re less tired than she is every day.
She sees herself in you,
Her unrealized dreams, passions, fears, failures,
Ever since she first held you.
Your brown eyes that you hate, that you wish were ocean blue—
They were hers first.
Your coarse black hair that you straighten out of hate every day—
It is hers.
Your brown skin that you’ve spent years trying to fix, hide, insult, ignore, leave behind—
It is hers, it was her gift to you.
She doesn’t say, “I love you.”
She braids your hair, she brings you a plate of fruit, she wakes you up at dawn.
She pierces your baby ears at a few months old, she shaves your toddler head so you have longer hair later in life, she makes food that you reject so that you know where you come from.
She is a part of you,
But you are all of her.
Because she loves you wholly,
And she always will.
By Faiza Chowdhury
SCREENSHOTS BY EMILY GABRIEL