Perice wins Verselandia 2019

Sophomore Lana Perice wins the slam poetry event for the second year in a row and will compete in the citywide competition April 25 with second place finisher Peter Fink


Clarion photo Mia Johnson

Sophomore Lana Perice is the champion of Verselandia, the slam poetry contest held at Cleveland on April 10, 2019.

By Mia Johnson, reporter

This year marks Cleveland’s eighth annual Verselandia poetry competition. On April 10, 14 competitors along with students, teachers and family and friends gathered to watch this unique event.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Verselandia is a poetry slam competition for high school age students hosted by the Literary Arts of Portland. Students in public high schools first compete at the school level, and two finalists from each school are sent to the citywide competition hosted at the Arlene Schnitzer concert hall downtown.

Sophomore Lana Perice took first, second went to senior Peter Fink, and third place runner up went to senior Milan Donhowe.

The competition mimics national professional poetry slams and has the same rules. Students must present original work, performances cannot exceed three minutes, and no props or costumes are used. Judges at both the school and citywide levels rate each speaker on a one to ten scale taking into consideration both the writing and the performance.  It is simply the student and what they have the power to do with their voice.

 Cleveland’s librarian Bryan Smith has been organizing the competition for the past seven years, all except the first year. It is a duty of Portland Public high school librarians to organize and promote the school competitions. He said, “Verselandia allows the students to express themselves freely, emotionally and it’s an artform that is limitless in the way that you can express yourself.”

Verselandia is unique because it the only opportunity at Cleveland where we appreciate poetry as an art form solely. Speech and debate, as well as class assignments, provide the opportunity to speak publicly and at times explore poetry, but Verselandia has a unique impact that allows higher expression of emotion and outward vulnerability.

Perice, who won for the second year in a row, said, “There’s really no other place I can do poetry besides speech and debate. There’s nothing else besides Verselandia, and it’s lovely because I get to see other people my age go out there and put their heart into these pieces and I get to be part of that this year.”

   All three finalists have different writing and performing styles, yet all stand out in unique ways. Perice mainly writes about her experiences as an American and takes a stance on social justice.

“Recently I’ve been writing mostly about my experience with America because as I’ve grown older, I have been trying to come to terms with my identity. My mother is Korean and an immigrant but I’m still this American bi-racial child who exists in this time where immigration is this big controversial topic,” Perice said.  Although we often hear about immigration in politics, Perice explained what it means to her on a personal level. “To me though, it’s so personal that it’s really just about my family and my stories. It is inherently political because my existence itself I guess can be considered political,” she said.

Fink writes more metaphorically and often personifies inanimate objects. “I often just get inspired by what I see and think of a funny instance or idea and try to express that in my writing. My second poem was inspired by a coffee pot. I was able to characterize an inanimate object as a dancing coffee pot,” he said.

Donhowe gets his inspiration by creating jokes out of everyday experiences and objects. He said, “I generally write about stuff that is kind of strange or completely crazy.” To elaborate, “One of the poems I wrote for Verselandia this year was about puns and was just me putting the word pun into the poem about twenty times. Last year I wrote one about how I really liked peanut butter and really hated jelly. And this year I wrote an ode to how much I love Advil,” he said.

   Although the writing varies, the finalists all had relatively similar and very positive responses surrounding what Verselandia means to them. Fink said, “For me, poetry is a way I can cleverly use language to express an idea. Entirely on a whim, I just decided I wanted to try something new by competing Verselandia this year.”

   Perice added, “What I value the most about Verselandia is seeing what my own story evokes in other people.”

   Donhowe expressed the community aspects. “Verselandia is a really great outlet to express poetry because it is a guaranteed audience to perform your poetry,” he said.

Poetry is an art form and brings people together by evoking emotions that every human can relate to. Whether you read and write poetry all the time, rarely, or just like to listen, it has the power to connect us through art in a unique way.

Donhowe reflects on what poetry means to him, saying, “Poetry is important to me because it’s a category where you can literally write anything and express yourself in any form or manner. I like to write poetry because it makes me happy and it’s a way of communicating my happiness.”

Perice explained the importance in her own life, saying, “I don’t really know why I write poetry, I guess I just feel like I have to. I’ve always liked how the words fit together and seeing the finished product as my story, that’s always meant something to me.”

Perice and Fink will be competing for Cleveland at the citywide competition on April 25 at 7 p.m. at the Arlene Schnitzer Hall.