By Gibron Rahim
“THERE is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
The aforementioned words belong to Maya Angelou, a favourite writer of Quanisha Patterson, a young Guyanese poet. One of her pieces will soon be published in “Songs of Peace: World’s Biggest Anthology of Contemporary Poetry 2020”. Through her poetry, Quanisha is sharing stories that inspire and evoke emotions.
It is only over the last three years that Quanisha has begun pursuing poetry seriously. As she told the Pepperpot Magazine, it was in Fourth Form at The Bishop’s High that her poetic journey truly began. She related, “When I first started writing I never shared my work.” The 17-year-old explained that, at that point, she was not writing to be heard but rather, as a form of catharsis. As a result of being involved in various productions as a theatre arts student, Quanisha’s confidence in her writing grew.
Writing poetry started out as a coping mechanism for Quanisha. “It was my way of overcoming low self-esteem,” she recalled. “Maya Angelou was definitely one of my inspirations to pursue poetry, especially because of her poem ‘Phenomenal Woman’.” The themes of Quanisha’s poetry focus on societal issues. “I examine love, feminism, religion, discrimination,” she related. “I also look at the effects of family structure on children’s health.”
Quanisha was fortunate that she made the deadline for submissions to the anthology competition. She explained that the original deadline was December 31, 2019, but was extended to January 31, 2020. “To my luck, I found out about the competition literally on January 20 from a fellow poet,” she said. The anthology competition is a project for global peace devised by The League of Poets, an international organisation committed to promoting world peace through poetry.
To even be considered, Quanisha’s entry had to satisfy a number of criteria. The poem needed to be 14 lines long, 50 characters per line. The poem is titled “The Sovereignty of Peace” and focuses on the beauty of the earth. This past February 10, Quanisha received an email from The League of Poets stating that she was a winner in the competition. Then, on February 18, she was exhilarated to receive her honorary certificate.
As its full name suggests, Songs of Peace is the world’s largest anthology of contemporary poetry. Quanisha’s poem was among those selected from among thousands of entries from 139 nations. The anthology itself will be published on March 10, 2020 and will be shipped in bulk free of charge to institutions all across the globe.
Writers and other artists have an important role in society. As Quanisha pointed out, “Not only do they entertain us, but they also raise awareness of camouflaged societal issues and they’re like the voice for people.” She questioned how any kind of positive change can occur in a society if there are no artists to play this crucial role. “You find that a lot of artists and a lot of poets not only write about their experiences,” Quanisha said, “They tend to cover what they observe, [such as] societal issues that need to be spoken on.”
Even as the artist influences society, they are influenced by their art. Quanisha related that she uses the sociological imagination, a way of looking at personal experiences and linking them to social and historical forces. In terms of mental health, this has taught her that many of us share similar experiences without realising it. “That is so important to note because sometimes when you try to keep things in, it doesn’t help you nor does it help another person,” she related. “But, when you speak about it and actually raise awareness of it, it helps so many people, just by you performing one piece.”
Quanisha’s feelings about being a part of Songs of Peace go beyond elation. “Not just because my work was selected but also because I am one of the poets that they chose to promote peace and that means a lot,” she said. “I feel extremely happy because I’m only 17 as well and I know how I started. When you enter a worldwide competition and you’re chosen, that shows you the level of your writing. And if you’re at such a high level at such a young age, it encourages you to write more, to help others through your writing and, moreover, to encourage others to utilise their talents.”