Two Paths, One Poem

North Allegheny’s GOAL program celebrates National Poetry Month with a record number of participants.

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photo by Jess Daninhirsch

April’s 30-day poetry challenge has inspired NA’s young poets in their endeavors.

Aris Pastor, Staff Writer

In his poem “The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost famously deliberated over two roads in a yellow wood, wondering which path he should take. This month, many students, faced with two prompts per day, are in a similar situation. 

April is National Poetry Month, and throughout the month, Gifted Opportunities for Advanced Learning (GOAL) program facilitator and teacher Janellen Lombardi has been sending students two options for a prompt every day in an event designed for students to write more poetry. The prompts range from responding to specific phrases to writing from a fictional character’s perspective to interpreting zodiac signs.

“We have 41 people signed up, which is an all-time high, and I have been getting so many really amazing poems that I’ve been posting,” Lombardi said. “I think for me personally, some of the prompts have been a little bit harder to connect to, like the astrological sign. I finally came up with something, but it took me all day. But I’m really moved by the poems that the students have written. It’s really encouraging and motivating to me to keep going when I see all of their work coming in.” 

Students have had a variety of reasons for joining the challenge. Many, like junior Arielle Batson, simply enjoy writing. 

“There are so many words and so many ways to use such words that it just excites me every time I sit down to write anything,” Batson said. “I’ve found myself rewriting simple text messages to make them more poetic, simply because I can.”

Lombardi has held this event for nine years, building good memories for many of the students involved in the past, so some, like senior Peterson Yook, joined out of tradition.

“I joined because I had a good memory of this event from last year,” Yook explained. “Last April, I was at the beginning of my growing literary interest, and the event prompted me to write anything.”

Others, like junior Erin Scanga or senior Gwen Walker, wanted to use the event to add to existing work. 

“I like writing poetry, and I’m trying to make a poetry book for myself this summer,” Walker stated. “And I want a lot of poems in there, so I felt like doing this challenge would help me write more and more poetry to fill that book.” 

There are so many words and so many ways to use such words that it just excites me every time I sit down to write anything.”

— Arielle Batson, NASH junior

Scanga said, “I thought maybe it could help me figure out some of the plot points for this book I’m trying to write. There’s a character who writes poetry.” 

Many of the student poets are also inspired by poetry they read in the past, much of which had a large influence in their writing. Junior Kay Mi particularly credits poets Richard Siken and Ocean Vuong in helping her style her poetry. 

“I discovered both of them when I was just getting into poetry, and both of their styles are so distinct,” Mi said. “Vuong writes in a way that’s so unique to him, and I genuinely think that he’s transformed the way I see and approach language as a whole. I’ve learned about taking the cadence of the words and constructing it around the body of the poem—structure mirroring content—to operate around the core of emotion.” 

However, more students have been inspired by their peers. If a student chooses to, Lombardi can post their poetry in the “Online Coffee House,” which holds links to the daily prompts and students’ poems. 

“I remember there was one I saw by Ishana Morgan for the prompt ‘constant’,” Scanga said. “There were a bunch of prompts that are like constant, transient, or permanent. I remember Ishana Morgan doing a good one.” 

Mi also found a lot of inspiration in student work. She said, “I’ve really enjoyed a lot of Gwen Walker’s work—I love the way she’s able to tell a story, and the details she incorporates within her poems make them feel so personal. I also really love Tabo Mkandawire’s poems! Her control over language is always stunning.”

Sophomore Aneri Shethji even cites Lombardi herself as an inspiration, saying, “I love Mrs. Lombardi’s poems and how much effort she puts into them. They are so great to read!”

Lombardi also hopes that students will join poetry contests, including the Write the Word Spoken Word Contest, the Chemistry Society Illustrated Poem Contest, and the Dear Poet Contest. 

Lombardi’s students have been enjoying completing the poetry prompts, and many promise to continue next April. She certainly has plans of carrying the tradition forward. 

“I hope to hold the event until I retire,” she said. “And then beyond that, I would still love to continue to participate myself, which will maybe be a lot better when I’m in retirement and not have a million other things to do.”