Clint Smith Talks Poetry and First-Time Readers Perform at Terpoets Open Mic

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By Nora Tarabishi, Bloc Reporter 

Student poets confronted their fears of performing and spoke at a Terpoets open mic event in the Dorchester Hall lounge on April 22 covering topics ranging from mythology to suicide.

Terpoets President Jake Tarr hosted the event, which featured first-time poetry readers Annie George and George LaValle.

George, a freshman government and politics and Russian double major, said she wrote her first poem in third grade but never had the time to attend a Terpoets event.

Jin Kim/Bloc Reporter~George faces her fears and chooses to perform her piece.
Jin Kim/Bloc Reporter~George faces her fears and chooses to perform her piece.

“Last semester I worked on Tuesday nights, and this semester I kept forgetting,” George said.

She was finishing an assignment in the basement of Dorchester Hall when the Terpoets staff began to set up. “I had 15 minutes until it started, so I ran to McKeldin to print some of my work and didn’t give myself time to second guess,” George said.

George said she likes to compose her poems based on mythology.

“I took notes of the ones I especially liked – the stories that had the most life force and humanized those gods – and now I incorporate them into my poems,” George said. “Sometimes we think our life experiences are so unremarkable when they might really hold universal truth that even these ludicrous gods endured.”

George said she plans to perform more in the future.

“This event actually affirmed my desire to really start writing and performing,” George said. “I’ve always suspected that I would like poetry reading as both a participant and a member of the audience – I just needed to give it a try.”

LaValle, a senior English major, said he has attended Terpoets events before but never performed.

Jin Kim/Bloc Reporter~ LaValle's performance stems from personal experiences.
Jin Kim/Bloc Reporter~ LaValle’s performance stems from personal experiences.

“I had an assignment for class to analyze a genre and produce a work in that genre, so I picked spoken word poetry,” LaValle said.

LaValle chose suicide as his poem’s topic because he had seen it happen to friends, he said.

“There’s a strong stigma against any kind of mental illness that it discourages people from seeking help, and it doesn’t have to be that way,” LaValle said.

LaValle’s post-graduation plans are to teach English, he said. He may write more poetry, but probably not for performance.

After a short intermission, Tarr introduced guest poets Amin “Drew Law” Dallal and Clint Smith.

Jin Kim/Bloc Reporter~ Dallal (Left) and Smith (Right) pose for a-self portrait.
Jin Kim/Bloc Reporter~ Dallal (Left) and Smith (Right) pose for a-self portrait.

Dallal opened with a poem about being the “chubby kid” in school. He talked about the struggles of wanting to fit in and how kids should learn to be proud of who they are.

Dallal’s second poem was about his Arab heritage and his trip to Jordan to visit family in 2008, he talked about being a half-breed and being proud of who he is.

“It was like a guilty, gorgeous love letter to his past that so many Americans can identify with,” George said.

His third and last poem, titled “Crash,” is about his complicated love life.

Dallal introduced his friend, Clint Smith, a D.C. Slam Team member and Individual World Poetry Slam finalist.

Smith, who is from New Orleans, graduated from Davidson College in North Carolina and will be working on his doctorate in education at Harvard University this fall.

About a month ago, Smith spoke at a TED Talk in New York about celebrating resilience.

The 25-year-old high school English teacher works at Parkdale High School in Prince George’s County in Riverdale Park, Md. and said his students motivate many of his poems.

The Maryland Humanities Council named him the Christine D. Sarbanes Teacher of the Year.

He opened with his poem “Place Matters,” which highlights “food deserts,” poor areas in which affordable and nutritious foods are difficult to obtain.

Smith’s later poems discuss his father’s kidney disease, his unexpected first love, the importance of expressing yourself, the dynamics of power in the education system and the effect Hurricane Katrina had on him and his family.

“With spoken word poetry, it seems like poets are less inclined to soliloquize about traditional poetic themes like love, morality and pain,” George said. “So we can really start these dialogues about food deserts and gaps in urban education.”

After the readings, Dallal and Smith stuck around to casually converse with students.

“Both poets gave engaging performances and really owned the stage,” said Julie Brown, the Writers’ House graduate staff sponsor.

Terpoets will hold their last open mic of the semester on May 6.

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