Pitt student publishes poetry book discussing mental health, relationships


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Dictionary definition of poetry.

By Rebecca Hsu, For The Pitt News

Diving into themes of mental health, relationships, identity and philosophy, “Midnight Peanut Butter and Other Transgressions” is a thoughtful and intensely personal reflection on college life, self-published by Pitt student Sylas Yarad.

Yarad, a sophomore English writing major, originally wrote the collection of poems for a class taught by Sten Carlson in the English department, which he said challenged him to assemble his poetry into a collection for the first time. He published his chapbook in December on the online self-publishing website, Lulu. Customers can order the book online and receive a print copy in the mail. 

Yarad added that he had an affinity for the humanities at an early age. He takes inspiration from poets such as Charles Bukowski and poets from the Beatnik era, a social movement in the 1950s characterized by its philosophy of antimaterialism, such as Jack Kerouac

“This is what truly ignited my passion for spontaneous prose and poetry,” Yarad said. “To me writing is my life and the thing that gives me purpose. I believe this despite whatever the future may hold in store.”

These inspirations are present throughout “Midnight Peanut Butter and Other Transgressions,” in Yarad’s emotionally raw and introspective style. The poems range from large, philosophical ideas, to smaller, intimate moments. These two viewpoints come together in the titular poem “Midnight Peanut Butter.”

In the poem, Yarad focuses on a single moment of him eating peanut butter in his kitchen. This moment sparks a spiral of philosophical questioning about how our decisions affect our lives, while also branching out to question more material concerns such as romantic relationships and class grades.

Throughout the chapbook, Yarad confronts various heavy topics. His poetry includes candid accounts of his queer identity, damaged relationships, mental health struggles and his lymphatic cancer diagnosis at 14.

“Without writing my poetry I would never have been able to process those things and understand them the way I understand them through writing of them,” Yarad said.

Carlson said he is proud of Yarad’s success, pointing to his creative merit. 

“Sylas’s chapbook was purely a result of their brilliance and artistic drive,” Carlson said. “In my classes, I encourage students to feel their feelings and take risks in their writing, and do the hard, daily work of finding poetic form that will hold, enable and give shape to all that feeling and risk taking.”

His current creative writing professor, Jared Lemus, similarly complimented Yarad for his writing and drive.

“Sylas was great. From his very first essay, I talked about how good it was. By the time we got to the poetry–the third and final section of the course — I knew to expect great things from Sylas,” Lemus said.

Regarding students who wish to publish their writing traditionally, Lemus said to ensure its best quality before sending it to publishers.

“My advice would be to not send out your work until you’re sure it’s as good as it can get… The reason? You only get one shot with that particular piece for each journal,” Lemus said. “Once you send it to the Paris Review, if they say no, you can’t send it again. That applies to most lit mags.”

In terms of publishing “Midnight Peanut Butter and Other Transgressions,” Yarad said the process was fairly simple. Most of the work consisted of formatting the chapbook for it to be physically printed. Once the book is in the appropriate format, Lulu prints the work into hard copies to sell on their website.

The publication process for Yarad is not over, however. He is still submitting his work to various publishers and competitions as often as he can. Yarad added that seeing his work in print for the first time has encouraged him further.

Concerning tips for other student writers, Yarad gives advice true to his own experience.

“Write personally,” Yarad said. “Write about what is intense and real, and put it out into the world as much as you can. It’s terrifying to sort of wear your heart on your sleeve as it were, but that step is probably the most important. You can’t get your work to be known if you’re too afraid for others to know it. I’m still working on that myself.”