Rich language and culture flowed from the Kyla Relaford room as the Sonrisas Multilingual Poetry Slam took place April 30.
The Day of the Child and Day of the Book was created in 1925, but it wasn’t until 1997 when American poet Pat Mora established it as a day where language, literacy and culture were celebrated in libraries across the United States.
“It was a way of having programming that could get children and their families in the door and allow them to feel prideful about their home language,” Athena Castro-Lewandowski said.
Castro-Lewandowski put on the poetry slam through the Student Support Services and the English department at Plattsburgh State
PSUC has the highest amount of international students out of any of the SUNY schools according to Cohen. The slam was a celebration of the international diversity that we have on campus.
“The audience might not understand each [poem], but it will allow them with the opportunity to hear a different language,” Castro-Lewandowski said. “I really think that is increasingly important as we have more and more students that are multilingual.”
The poetry slam was a collaboration of different departments and languages at PSUC. The music department provided a keyboard for the musical performance, and English teacher Elizabeth Cohen’s spoken word poetry class performed.
“It’s important for different departments and sections of the college to collaborate and for our students to be amongst one another at these events,” Cohen said.
Cohen’s spoken word poetry class supported each speaker by snapping or saying “mhhm” in agreement. One student performed his poem while playing the banjo.
Cohen and Castro-Lewandowski were purposefullying trying to collaborate with a variety of different departments. Marie Alcis is a sophomore at PSUC and was the emcee at the poetry slam. She created the scoring system and helped to plan the event with Castro-Lewandowski and Cohen.
“I feel like [the poetry slam] is important, especially the name ‘The Day of The Child, The Day of The Book’ because of the idea of being kids like we are innocent and we have time to grow and learn, which is really important.”
Alcis performed Langston Hughes, “Dreams” in her native language of Creole at the beginning of the event.
Alcis coordinated students to speak the poem in different languages. The word “snow” from the poem can not translate into some languages because they don’t have snow in that country.
“This gives us the chance to be exposed to more diversity and to appreciate different languages and customs,” Alcis said.
The slam provided freedom of expression themselves for students who speak multiple languages.
“We don’t often get a chance to openly express ourselves,” Alcis said. “Being an English major I can’t just start writing in Creole or just break all the rules, but as a poet you get to do that and I also get to do that in my language and I feel free from all the rules I have to follow.”
Alcis hopes that students keep getting involved and that they can host another poetry slam next semester.
Abayomi Edwards-Dwyer performed a popular Christmas song from Trinidad and Tobago in spanish with five other people. Edwards-Dwyer is a Spanish and Latin American studies major.
“[The slam] is a lot of different things from all around the world and I think that is really important especially in a place like Plattsburgh,” Edwards-Dwyer said.
Suadou Balde performed “Dreams” in her native language of Wolof, which is the language spoken in Senegal. Most people have heard French and Spanish, but Wolof is unique. Balde hopes it exposed and interested others to her language.
“At first it was for my teacher, but it’s bigger than that,” Balde said, “It’s for me and for other people to know my language.”