Posted on: April 15, 2021 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

By Ryan Windle, JRN 111 Student

Through the power of poetry and music, Moraine Valley students let their voices be heard during the first ever MV Poetry Contest & Virtual Coffeehouse on Thursday.

First place in the contest went to Taiye Ojo for “Hereditary Blues,” a poem centered around what one judge called a “touching meditation on separation from a homeland.” Second went to Asmaa Herzallah for “Keep Palestine Alive,” and third went to Joseph Schmidt for “Why?”

Taiye Ojo reads his poem “Hereditary Blues,” which won first place in the MV Poetry Contest & Virtual Coffeehouse.

“I am really grateful to the judges for finding my poem worthy of the prize,” Ojo said. “Though I wasn’t expecting to be placed, I am really happy my poem was selected as one of the top three. It has never been about winning. For me, it’s all about resonance.”

That sentiment was shared by organizers of the event, which was sponsored by The Glacier and the Moraine Valley library in recognition of National Poetry Month. They stressed that the event was mostly about creating connections.

“I love that we are all getting to experience this,” said communications and journalism professor Lisa Couch, who emceed the event. “I wish we could all be in a room snapping.

“It’s not easy to put yourself out there, and we applaud your courage and your creativity. This is a celebration of all of you and your voices,” she said just before she and literature professor Amani Wazwaz announced the winners.

The Coffeehouse was hosted on WebEx, an online meeting service.  At the start of the event, some technical difficulties emerged, with issues getting the students who were performing on the WebEx panel.

“This is an adventure,” Couch said in the midst of the chaos, but eventually, all was fixed. The problems did not seem to shake the 11 Moraine students who were presenting their original works of poetry, rap and music.

Other student poets whose work was showcased were I’ana Lomax with “The Thing About Love,” Marissa Perales with Pie,” Jennifer Zufan with “Neverland,” and Chase Haggard with “Journey.” Yuliana Sanchez had submitted the poem “Desserped,” but was unable to attend.

Response to the event was positive, and some Moraine students shared their feelings after attending.

“I listened to some interesting poems today,” said student Halina Tylczak. “My favorite was actually a tie. I liked ‘Neverland’ by Jennifer Zufan and ‘Journey’ by Chase Haggard. I liked Jennifer’s poem because it was cheery and whimsical and took me back to childhood. Chase’s poem was deep and emotional; I could picture the emotions and the struggles. It was relatable.”

Joseph Barry’s favorites also were different from those chosen by the judges.

Asmaa Herzallah reads her second-place-winning poem, “Keep Palestine Alive.”

“The best thing about poetry is how everyone has a different opinion about what’s good or bad, even the interpretation of it,” he said. “Overall, the poems submitted were very heartfelt. I enjoyed them all and I think that they all did an amazing job writing their poems.”

The contest was judged by librarian Hannah Carlton, award-winning Glacier writer Valerie Olivares, and communications professor and poet Panshula Ganeshan.  Students who placed in the top three won a specialized, high-end pen set from the Moraine Valley bookstore.

“The first thing my mom did when she heard that I got second place was tell me that she loved me,” said Herzallah, whose poem was a call for justice for Palestine.

“Even though she tells me she loves me often, it felt so precious because she was so happy for me to have achieved something so bright. She, as well as my dad, felt no one would care about what anyone has to say about Palestine’s problem since it’s hard to find people who acknowledge our hardships, but I feel like getting second place gave my parents hope, which was so special to me.”

Joseph Schmidt submitted three poems to the contest, including “Addiction,” “Revelation,” and the third-place winner, “Why?”

“I am blown away at the responses that I have gotten from people that read and heard my poems,” he said. “It feels great to be selected as one of the top three writers! I felt honored to be a part of such a diverse, inclusive, and equitable culture that was represented in the contest.”

In addition to the student poets, the event included musical performances and raps by some Moraine talent. Colton Athy, who was set to play the ukulele and sing, had issues with his internet connection, but student David Aguilar was able to perform his original music. Aguilar’s music can be found on Spotify, under the name Hyp3rDriv3.

Ganeshan, who said he was “happy and honored to serve as a judge,” kicked off the event by performing some of his work. Inspired by the mythological god Mercury, Ganeshan performed his original raps “Mercury’s Quest” and “Dream Alchemy.”

Moraine Valley professors inspired the students in more ways than one.

Joseph Schmidt reads his third-place-winning poem, “Why?”

Schmidt said, “Dr. Amani Wazwaz has been instrumental in my development as a writer over the past couple of years. With her guidance, kind spirit, and constant encouragement, I have been able to tap into a gift that I never knew I had.”

This virtual contest only is the start for some Moraine Valley students, as many hope to continue writing in the future.

“I have been working on my second chapbook tentatively titled ‘Hereditary Blues,’” Ojo said. “Hopefully, if things turn out well for me, I might also consider applying for an MFA during the fall.”

Herzallah said, “I want to continue writing sincerely. I really want to use my voice because I feel that’s the best way to appreciate it.”

Schmidt said he will never stop writing: “I am a writer at my core. I cannot ignore my desire to express myself regularly through my writing. Wherever my life takes me, I will be writing about it with the desire to reach and help those out there who are struggling.”

A day after the event, Couch reflected on how it went.

“Overall it was a success,” she said. “It was a nice moment, a connection between human beings. Writing in general, especially poetry, is so important and it does not always get recognized like sports.”

Couch hopes that audiences are inspired by this event to write some of their own poetry or study the work of great poets.  She encouraged anyone interested to sign up for a class For fall, Moraine is offering COM 104-Intro to Creative Writing and LIT 217-Intro to Poetry. LIT 217 is also being offered online over the summer.

“Everyone really enjoyed it and appreciated the poets and musicians sharing their talents,” Couch said. “Our goal was to make poetry public and visible, and we’re looking forward to next year to build on this success.”