Poet Laureates: ‘We all have poems inside of us’

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POETS – Cleveland’s poet laureates show their spirit before the Homecoming assembly. Ashley Lytle photo.

By Quinn Gonzales, Reporter

Out of the 12 finalists of the Portland Youth Poet Laureate project, two of them were students from Cleveland. Senior Emily Diamond and sophomore Adam Nayak were chosen out of dozens of applicants as finalists and were announced as Portland’s Youth Poet Ambassadors.

The Youth Poet Laureate project is an initiative by SpitWrite, a group of Portlanders who help identify students who have the potential to thrive as both poets and leaders. They then give these promising students training and a platform to take their talents to the next level. With the inspiration of similar organizations, they decided to host the first Portland Youth Poet Laureate competition. The same Youth Poet Laureate competition has existed in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, but this year was the first time the program had come to Portland. The Youth Poet Laureate project is a way to reach out to young poets in the Portland area, and to crown one high schooler Portland’s Inaugural Youth Poet Laureate.

The applicants submitted five pieces of original writing, and out of the dozens of applicants, 12 high school students were chosen as finalists, meaning Diamond and Nayak will continue to be ambassadors for one year and will have numerous opportunities to perform poetry and give back to the community.   

When Nayak found out he had been chosen, he said, “It was great. I was pretty happy to have finaled. I wasn’t expecting it at all, but that was pretty cool and it showed that my work had paid off.”

“I was pretty shocked when I found out I was one of the Youth Poet Ambassadors,” Diamond said. “I entered the competition at the beginning of the summer on a whim so I didn’t expect to make it far.”

In order to receive the title of Portland’s Inaugural Youth Poet Laureate, each of the 12 ambassadors performed an original piece of work in front of an audience at the final performance Sept. 28. Prior to the event, they were required to attend weekly meetings where the finalists were given advice on how to write and perform original poetry.

“We came up with a collaborative performance as a group and then we learned how to perform better and talked about different opportunities for us in the future,” Nayak explained.

Each finalist had three separate presentations the night of the final performance. First, as a group, they showed the audience why they believe poetry is important through song and dance. During this collaborative project they were given the opportunity to individually speak to the audience in a few words why poetry is meaningful to them. The second performance was the presentation of their individual slam poem. The third performance was the delivery of their project, which was a plan they intended to undertake if they were chosen by the audience as the finalist who should be given the opportunity to use a thousand dollars to better their community.

“For my project, I aimed to share poetry with younger children by traveling to various elementary schools in the city and encouraging young students to share their words,” Diamond said.

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the event and watch the individual performances. Diamond’s performance was touching and passionate, filled with colorful words and lively metaphors. Her body language reflected what she was saying and her timing was perfect. Nayak performed in a way that was calm but strongly emotional at the same time, using powerful descriptions and using his facial expressions and body language to move his poem along. Cleveland High School should be proud of these two fine poets.

In the end, there was a tie for first place, between Alexis Cannard, a senior at Roosevelt, and Sekai Edwards, a senior at Jefferson. Though Nayak did not win the event, he was voted Most Inspiring Poet, due to his constant support and his magnificent artwork. Throughout the weeks of meetings, he had shown that he was not only a poet, but an artist, by accompanying his poems with original paintings.

SpitWrite decided to create a book with each of the finalist’s final poems and Nayak offered up his artistic abilities by accompanying each finalist’s poem with an original painting he believed captured the essence of the piece.

Diamond describes the experience as rewarding and unforgettable. “Being able to collaborate with other creative poets who share my same interest was extremely inspiring. The process has motivated me to continue writing and perform more poetry.”

Looking into the future, Nayak might submit his work next year. “I think I probably will, but I don’t know, I’m just mainly doing it to learn and improve.” Though Diamond will not be able to submit next year, as she will be a freshman in college, she encourages others to apply. “Expressing youth voice is so impactful to individuals and community members…We all have poems inside of us. We must only pick up a pen and write!”