ETHS students read original poetry at Northwestern

By: Alice Yin, The Daily Northwestern
Published: April 18, 2014

Evanston Township High School students performed original poems Thursday evening at Northwestern, the culmination of three months of weekly workshops run by NU students.

The annual program, titled “The Voice Within Us,” was started in 2012 by NU’s Poetry & Poetics Colloquium, a collection of students and faculty interested in poetry, and Youth Organizations Umbrella, Inc., an Evanston-based agency that aims to provide services to local youth. The student participants, who are enrolled in YOU, read their proudest works to celebrate their growth as budding poets.

“I think that poetry is a really great way for students to process their feelings,” said Ebele Onyema, the high school and street outreach program team leader at YOU. “A big part of poetry is that they recite it to each other so there’s a camaraderie in hearing stories that are similar to yours … Even if it’s unlike anyone else, the affirmation of getting a good poem is also cathartic.”

The poetry showcase, which falls during National Poetry Month, was staged in an open-mic setting where students could freely walk up and recite their poems. Both ETHS kids and NU students showcased their final poems, some of  which were published in a limited edition booklet that included works from colloquium scholars.

As they waited to recite their poems, the students playfully teased each other about who would go next.

“Mine’s more personal, so I was more emotional about it,” said ETHS sophomore Angela Zachery. “Hearing people clap, that just gave me to confidence to go up there and read my other poem.”

Alanna Hickey, the colloquium graduate student who coordinated with YOU and managed the workshops, said she was proud to see her students present their works.

“This is kind of surreal for them,” Hickey said. “We talk about how it will end in publication, but to be able to see them up there and actually read the things that they’ve worked on for so long is really exciting for them and for us.”

The workshops, which were planned by Hickey and three other NU students, consist of exercises to develop creativity and self-expression. Some of them are whimsical and fun: Hickey recalled an exercise in which they described everyday items, such as a spool of thread or an ashtray that was a golden whale with a gaping mouth.

Toby Altman, the graduate administrator for the colloquium who organized the final reading, said he thinks “The Voice Within Us” is an important way to connect the university with local community.

“I think Evanston has a certain image, but the truth of that image is a lot more complicated,” Altman said. “It seems like a very nice suburban town but there’s actually very large economic … (and) racial gaps. … Northwestern students and faculty can bring those disparities to light by working through that kind of stuff.”

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