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Students bring mental health to light with spoken poetry

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Senior civil environmental engineering major Isaiah Spencer-Williams performs his poem

Senior civil environmental engineering major Isaiah Spencer-Williams performs his poem "My Face" at SGB's Stay Spoke Poetry Night Thursday evening.

Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Senior civil environmental engineering major Isaiah Spencer-Williams performs his poem "My Face" at SGB's Stay Spoke Poetry Night Thursday evening.

By Sarah Shearer, Assistant News Editor

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Senior Karee Ann Rogers has already published her first book — but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have struggles. She recited one of her published poems Thursday night, detailing her experiences with anxiety.

“At times I don’t know who I would be without her pushing me, but I can’t let her gaslight me either, I can’t pretend this doesn’t hurt me, that this isn’t abusive. But her name’s anxiety, and she’s in love with me,” the Africana Studies and English writing major recited.

Rogers and seven other speakers shared their spoken poetry at Student Government Board’s event “Stay Spoke Poetry Night.” The event was a part of Mental Health Awareness Month, held Thursday at 8 p.m. in the William Pitt Union. SGB board member Zechariah Brown organized the poetry night with Wellness Committee Chair Eric Macadangdang.

The performers were diverse — both engineers and published authors took the stage. But professionals weren’t the only ones allowed to perform. Brown, the emcee, invited students to come up and share their work. Brown said fostering an environment where students can be vulnerable in sharing their stories was his main goal for the night.

“I know that a lot of times just hearing or seeing that someone’s had a similar experience to yours, whether that be depression, anxiety or any other host of issues or disorders, just hearing that someone has gone through the same thing or is going through the same thing could have a profound impact on you,” Brown said.

Rogers’ poem, titled “Anxiety,” was part of her first book published in January, “The Sun and all Her Planets.” In the book of short stories and poetry, Rogers explores her various emotional states and Caribbean heritage with chapters titled “Fear,” “Love,” “The Familiar,” “The Unknown,” “Depression,” “Anxiety,” Remorse” and “Acceptance.”

Rogers said her life experiences directly inform her work and she wants to use her poetry to serve others.

“I chose [‘Anxiety’] to perform because I felt like if I didn’t, I’d be almost keeping someone from experiencing that,” she said.

Isaiah Spencer, a senior civil and environmental engineering major who performed three poems at the event, said fostering a human connection was an important element of the night.

“It’s needed, especially in today’s world with the status of just different political structures, it seems like we’re really losing touch with who we are,” Spencer said. “Having stuff like this is very important for that and reestablishing that first and foremost, we’re people and we all go through stuff. It’s important to take the time out and listen to each other.”

Spencer said he wants to use his artwork as a way to tell people they’re not alone in their struggles. His first piece of the night was a work personifying depression.

“Unfortunately you will not see me or it coming because I do my homework and I do it well / I’ve closely analyzed the words you say and I watch closely when you get down and pray and nine times out of 10 I’m the reason that you want to suffocate,” Spencer said during his performance.

Spencer also debuted something new, a piece he said was his “most personal piece ever.” He wrote it during his time spent in Flint, Michigan, this past summer, a time he described as tough and isolating.

“Going through that and writing that opened my eyes and made me turn inward and look at myself and stuff I was dealing with,” Spencer said.

Like several other performers at the event, Spencer uses writing as a coping mechanism and creative outlet. Despite being in the midst of an 18-credit semester during his senior year, he is working through a book of his poetry he hopes to publish by graduation, titled “The Pursuit.”

Lane Mitchell, another performer, sends his artistic work into the world not on paper like Spencer, but to a beat.

Mitchell, a senior studying supply chain management, began writing at 13 years old as an outlet and has since moved into music, putting his work onto listening platforms like Soundcloud and Spotify. Mitchell’s first work, “Scars,” is a song he spoke in verses at the event.

“Hate goes nowhere / love is the cure / only thing telling me that I can endure / the pain in my brain and the hurt in my heart /…./ no matter how tough I’ll never give in / I’ll never quit that’s what makes me king,” he said.

Though performers’ topics differed and explored a diverse array of life experiences and dealings with mental health, the performers agreed that bringing these issues to light is a necessary step in handling it.

“I’m OK sharing,” Spencer said of his work, “especially if I know that there’s somebody else in the crowd [who needs it] … you know you’re going to go through it, you may go through it, but you’re going to make it to the other side.”

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About the Writer
Sarah Shearer, Assistant News Editor

Sarah is graduating from Pitt in spring 2019 with degrees in English nonfiction writing and French. She is an assistant news editor at The Pitt News, and previously worked at TPN as an opinions columnist and assistant opinions editor. She loves using writing to connect with and learn from other people, and wants to spend her life doing that in some way. After graduating, Sarah plans to pursue a career in journalism or work overseas in the missions field.

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Students bring mental health to light with spoken poetry