Poetry unites international teens

Some poems seem to just appear on the page, but most are laboriously built, one word at a time.

This week, students at one of the more internationally diverse high schools in Philadelphia have come together over poetry. Northeastern High School students – hailing from Haiti to Belarus to Iraq – joined with a renowned Palestinian poet for a week-long workshop.

 Anna Rystem, 17, was born in Albania, and is now a student in Northeast Philadelphia High. She says she got over her fear of poetry.

“You think the poem has to make sense – but sometimes you just have to pull them together, like a story. And if you read it later it makes sense.”

The workshop taught her to organize and expand her feelings, like this one: “His body hides a love letter, and also carries a dangerous smile.”

Rystem and her classmates wrote poems about their native heritage, far-away relatives, and about cute boys and cute girls.

They performed them in the school auditoirum, backed up by an string and percussion ensemble called Intercultural Journeys. The group, along with the Arabic organization Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture, brought in Paslestinian poet Nathalie Handal for a residency.

“The surprise is to see what images they come up with,” says Handal. “On day one they are not sure what they are going to do, but on day five they’ve built a country on the page – a little world on their page.”

Intercultural Journeys has created a program called “Bridges Across Broad Street”, using art to bring together Jewish, Arab, and African-American people.

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