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Harker Aquila

The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

Poetry empowers student voices

Alison Yang
Poetry offers students a place to express themselves, whether through writing, reading or reciting it. “You can just use words and use the feelings of those words to create a painting,” Eric Zhang (11) said.

Adolescence often feels like a struggle. In these turbulent years, teenagers may feel the need to express themselves, to make their voices heard. Poetry is one such mode of expression, allowing for a release of feelings and subsequent self-discovery. Many students turn to poetry to reflect on their emotions, whether for self-awareness or catharsis.

Sophomore Helen Gu started writing in elementary school when her teacher posted an advertisement for a poetry competition. Ever since, she entered more competitions and eventually fell in love with writing. This year, Helen applied for the Youth Poet Laureate program, aiming to spread social justice messages through the three poems she wrote as part of the application process.

“I chose the pieces that I liked the best at the moment and the ones which have the strongest message to them,” Helen said. “These poems are more about social issues and personal issues, which makes sense for the application because being a poet laureate is about bringing poetry to the outside world.”

Helen uses writing as a way to explore her own identity and to advocate for social issues that she cares about such as mental health and intersectionality. She feels a personal connection to the freedom of expression and form that comes with poetry.

“Poetry is just the art form that makes the most sense to me,” Helen said. “I understand it more than other writing styles. I like writing other things too, but I think poetry feels right to me. Every artist has a form of art that they gravitate to. For me, that’s poetry.”

Junior Iris Cai followed a different path to beginning to write. Her interest in poetry first piqued towards the end of middle school when working on a school assignment. After attending a writing camp in sophomore year, she began to seriously explore poetry.

“I started writing because I liked to read a lot as a kid, so writing is an extension of that,” Iris said. “It’s very concise and a lot of emotion packed into a short form, and that really speaks to me. When people look at the world, they don’t look at it the way you watch a movie. Certain impactful things stand out to you when you think of your memories, and I think poetry just really captures that. It’s a way of helping me process and also a way of putting out something that will provide some sort of message.”

Unlike Helen and Iris, junior Eric Zhang pursues poetry mostly through reading and recitation. Wanting to break out of his shell, he participated in the Poetry Out Loud contest in 2023. Alongside recitation, he dabbles in writing as well.

“With poetry, it doesn’t always have to be exact or concrete,” Eric said. “You don’t have to necessarily follow all the grammar conventions. You can just use words and use the feelings of those words to create a painting. It doesn’t have to have a pure meaning like with a book.”

While poetry may be cathartic, beginning the writing process can be difficult and stressful. Helen often struggles to find inspiration, sometimes going months between writing poems. In the meantime, she writes down phrases to keep in mind when she feels inspired again.

“Most of the time, I start with a phrase,” Helen said. “When I think about a certain topic I want to write about, there’s a certain phrase that sounds right to me in my head. Usually, it’s a phrase with a specific message or rhythm. So I write that down, and I can work my way up from there. Sometimes what’s easiest for me is starting from the end of a poem because I’m better at writing endings.”

Like Helen, Iris often forms her poems from trigger phrases. To combat writer’s block, she recommends taking inspiration from other works and immersing oneself in the surrounding world.

“Reading is good because you can see how other people are describing certain things and that might give you inspiration,” Iris said. “But you don’t want to accidentally imitate them too much. I think it’s also good to go put yourself out there and talk to people about their experiences and let yourself experience the world around you.”

With poetry, students can grow to recognize the beauty in other perspectives and also find the beauty in themselves. The freedom that comes with writing a poem allows students to dive into the depths of their identity. English teacher Jennifer Siraganian encourages students to recognize the worth of their story and start writing.

“You have a voice,” Siraganian said. “You have a story, and that’s important. That deserves to be seen and recorded. Just believe that there is value in what you have to say. Keep writing even if there are voices in your head that say ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘this person is better than me’ or ‘this will never get published’.”

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About the Contributors
Suhani Gupta
Suhani Gupta, Reporter
Suhani Gupta (10) is a reporter for Harker Aquila, and this is her second year on staff. This year, Suhani would like to write many articles and interview new people. In her free time, she loves to listen to music and talk to her friends.
Alison Yang
Alison Yang, Co-A&E and Lifestyle Editor
Alison Yang (11) is the co-arts and entertainment and lifestyle editor for Harker Aquila and the Winged Post, and this is her third year on staff. Alison is looking forward to getting to know more people and working on photography. She also likes to hang out with her cat Schrödinger, play Russian Fishing 4 and watching bad movies.

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