Young Liberians Expressing Themselves Through Poetry

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Monrovia – A few young people braved the very wet Sunday, June 30th, evening to gather at Fuzzion, an entertainment spot, for a blissful poetry slam, organized by Dr. Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, a visiting United States-Liberian professor. The young people had gathered under the banner, “Young Scholars,” a literary group of students organized by Dr. Wesley.

Excitement and laughter filled the room when a young poet, Ms. Maureen Davies, read her literary work entitled, “Free Me.” A particular line in her piece drew the excitements:  “Free me from your endless stereotype; don’t question me for being a Lorma girl just because I have a flat backside. I know my behind is flatter than a door but you don’t have to rub it in my nose.” 

Naturally, Ms. Davies has a relatively “flat” buttock. At least seven out of 10 Liberian women hailing from the Lorma ethnic background have relative ‘big’ buttocks.  

Davies, who is reading Biology and Chemistry at the Mother Patern College of Health Sciences, Stella Maris Polytechnic, said she started writing poetry in high school. According to her, she writes poetry as a way to express herself and “Free Me” was one she had to write due to lots of stereotyping she experiences because of her “flat” backside. 

According to her, Dr. Wesley is not only a professor but also a role model, who has encouraged many young people like her to express themselves through writing. 

Alexandra Tetee Bonar, who was the winner of last year’s Young Scholars’ competition, said she had gained more confidence since she met Dr. Wesley. According to her, she had dropped in her writing skills for the last two years, but she is now confident to write and express herself.

“Dr. Wesley has thought me to revamp my writing skills. And for people who find it difficult to write, you just have to write when any thought comes to your mind. You have to first know your mood then you can find the title later but start.”

Aaron Ireland, who is a short story writer, is also a member of the Young Scholars, said the aim of the group is to encourage young Liberians to get involved in writing poetry and short story. 

“I write short stories. Dr. Wesley is a great influence in our lives; she is a mentor, a role model, a mother, so it is privilege for us,” he said.

19-year-old Jee-won M. Arkoi, who is reading Social Works at the Mother Patern College of Health Science, also writes poems to express her feelings. 

A poem to her father, called the “Best Dad Ever” won her a trip to the US. It was sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Liberia. 

But on Sunday, she read a poem entitled: “My Mother’s Pain.” In it she tells the struggle many mothers go through under heavy down pour of rain to buy ‘country rice’ for their children, and how walking in the Redlight Market mud, and passing by zogoes (miscreants) are all parts of the everyday struggle faced by them.  

A proud father, Augustine S. Arkoi of the New Hope Academy, said he never knew he had a gifted daughter until she wrote him the Father’s Day’s poem: “The Best Dad Ever.” He encouraged her to have it published in a newspaper, which she was reluctant to do but later did and that paid off. 

“I could not believe she wrote that poem. When I asked her who wrote it for her, she got vexed and asked, ‘Dad, who will write for me?’ That poem can go as a universal poem for any dad. I am so proud of Jee-won, and the program.”

Dr. Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, Prof. of English Literature and Creative writing, is the brain behind the poetry group. 

According to Dr. Wesley, the group’s aim is to inspire young people for excellence. She stated that the group is using literature as a base to inspire future generations of Liberians to focus on their education. 

“This is the third year of having poetry training workshops in Liberia. We train Jr, and Sr high school students and we conduct training workshops for college students as well. We help them to write properly,” she said.

“Our doors are open to all young writers. We take junior and senior high students, who want to learn how to write.

Dr. Welsey is also conducting similar training in faraway Maryland County, where she hails from.  

“Maryland County is where I am from, so I have to give back to my people who raised me.” 

Dr. Wesley has written five books of poetry with over a hundred poems in each of her books. She is now on her sixth book. She added: “My works have been published in the Harvard Review and in a hundred publications.” 

Many of her poems speak about Liberia. 

“I write about Liberia because I love my country. I write a lot about our people; our culture, our values. I write about our beautiful women, children our ethnicity. I write about our war, the Ebola, about unity. I even write about our food, our African lappa, and our beautiful natural reserves.”

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