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Student poets perform original writing at open mic

On the evening of May 13, the stage was set. CVHS student writers and community members gathered at Pampas Cafe, nestled next to Trader Joe’s, for the first school-sponsored poetry open mic since the pandemic.

“I’m just excited to share my poetry because this is the first time that my poetry will actually be heard from my voice instead of just [in The Olympian] newspaper or online,” said junior and co-emcee of open mic, Maggie Rodas.

CVHS poets had been developing their work since the beginning of the school year through writing workshops in the library during Trojan Time, but now they had a chance to share their work with the public.

Like Rodas, senior Vivian Owens was familiar with the written form of poetry but less familiar with the performance aspect. “I usually write poetry and I’m like, ‘I’m never gonna let this see the light of day!” she joked. “But now it’s going to see the light of day.” 

As the open mic went on, teachers, family members, and Trader Joe’s shoppers bustled inside Pampas Cafe and took their seats. Each poet was introduced by Rodas and her co-emcee Bibiana Lazares.

Owens had written a piece about her experience being a person of color, specifically as a racially ambiguous person, through a “fairy-tale” perspective. “I really fixated on like fairy tales and like sparkly things when I was little, so I wanted to kind of put that into my experience into this little capsule that I can show the people and have them understand,” she described.

The poems shared spanned a spectrum of experiences. From heartbreaks, to platonic love poems addressed to friends, to mental health struggles, to work addressing race, gender, and sexuality, everyone gave each poet who went up to the mic, their full attention.

Senior J Wanjiku had her own spectrum of poems to bring on stage. “One is about childhood, like my upbringing,” she said. “I’m an immigrant. I’m first gen. So it’s about my journey getting here, and how that felt because I was so young. The second one is about periods–putting on a tampon for the first time. That’s an experience.”

Wanjiku’s poetry is influenced by a number of artists, most notably, Nikki Giovanni who she described as “a big inspiration.” “I read about her in school, and I just loved her vibe,” she gushed. “Her poems and the Tupac tattoo that she has –even though she literally is like 60– is so cool.” 

Organized through a collaboration between the CVHS library and Smalltown Society–whose motto is to “occupy a space for the neighborhood”– the feeling of community was very much present.

“I would love to see the voices of emerging artists heard more clearly in our community,” said songwriter and Lead Curator of Smalltown Society Paul Keim. He hopes to continue collaborating with CVHS in order to give artistic platforms to more young artists.

Hip hop artist and Smalltown Society Collective member BJ (artist name “CLEAN”) agrees. A collaborative effort between Smalltown, Pampas, and the students at Castro Valley High, was a great space for them to get an opportunity to do public performance and public speaking,” he said. “I know there’s a lot more things in the works and I just think that he’s going to really help the creative community with the high school students and the relationship between Castro Valley overall with the students in Smalltown, so I hope there’s many more collaborations to come. It’s not the first.”

Rodas and a number of non-seniors are hoping to turn this group of poetry-minded students into an official poetry club at CVHS for the coming school year. “I wanted to make up my own club, a poetry club, not only just to read and speak poetry, but also [to make sure] people who don’t have a healthy way of communicating their emotions or their mind or their thoughts [have a space to do so… and also branch out to different places as we did here with Smalltown Society,” she said. 

CVHS librarian Angela Anthony helped jumpstart this project but will be moving on to a different career next school year. “It’s kind of bittersweet. I think students like this are exactly the reason why I continue to stay in education for so long,” she said. “But finishing on this note where I get to have hope for the next generation and see how confident they can be and express themselves through their words, is the heart of what libraries are. It’s all about books and words. So this has just been really nice. I’m really proud of all these girls. For coming up and speaking their hearts and we’re just really happy to end on this note.”

While all the students who shared their poetry identified as girls or femme folks, Rodas emphasized that poets are not limited to just those people. “People always think that poetry is such a feminist thing, or that it’s not masculine for you to do it,” she said. “But I do believe that if you write a piece, you’ll get addicted to it and you’ll learn a lot more things than you anticipated from yourself and other things.”

Rodas continued. “[Poetry] is not just for the females or people who are sad or depressed. Poetry is for people who are also happy. Poetry is for people who have feelings, and I’m pretty sure everyone that’s going to read this article has feelings. I believe that poetry is for everyone.”

Editor’s note: The students who performed included Ellarin Baylon (who also had their visual art featured in Pampas), Lilith Castaneda, Kaila Crane, Zoe Dorado, Jocelynne Gomez, Bibi Lazares, Megan McCuaig, Vivian Owens, Maggie Rodas, Gracie Torres, and J Wanjiku.

One thought on “Student poets perform original writing at open mic

  • maggie rodas

    This article was one of the most beautiful ive read all year, I appreicate the support poetry is getting from a wide range of people at cvhs and I thank you Zoe for being you, for publishing this article and allowing not only your voice but all of our voices to be heard. Thank you for allowing all of this to happen!

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