Students Excel at Vision+Voice Poetry Contest

By Triambika Dinakaran, Reporter

Over these past several months, as life during a pandemic seems to only get harder, people have turned to art for comfort, and the Vision+Voice program, based in Austin strives to cherish and celebrate the poetic art that gets us through these unprecedented times.

Thiago Rocha-Leite ’20, Triambika Dinakaran ’21, and Nashitha Azeez ’22 were some of the winners of the 2020 Vision+Voice Poetry Contest. Vision+Voice is an annual poetry contest for kindergarten through 12th grade students in the Austin Community College (ACC) service area. Launched in 2013, Vision+Voice is a joint project of the Art & Digital Media Division and the Liberal Arts, Humanities & Communication Division at ACC. The program aims to provide multiple venues for students to become published poets, and give students greater access to share their work with authentic audiences. 

The award ceremony for this program is usually held every April in honor of National Poetry Month, but due to the pandemic, this year’s award ceremony was held online on Sept. 5th at 6:00 P.M. CDT. The ceremony was a pre-recorded compilation of winners reciting their poems and sharing their love for poetry. 

Vision+Voice isn’t just a contest; it’s a program that hopes to kindle passion for poetry within the students of Austin, by arming them with essential tools for writing. Their website features free resources such as “Ask a Poet”, which allows students to put forth questions to professional poets. 

Winners of Vision+Voice are invited to videotape their poems at Austin PBS studios, and these videos are posted on the Vision+Voice YouTube channel. Additionally, winning poems get published in a paperback anthology. Select poems are paired with art by ACC students as well. 

This year’s event saw over 800 poems in Dutch, English, and Spanish, submitted from Austin, Leander, Del Valley, and Cedar Park. The winning poems were selected by a panel of judges consisting of ACC Creative Writing students, faculty, and published poets. 

Despite the pandemic, ACC was determined to ensure the online celebration would be just as wonderful as it would’ve been in-person. “Technology was a big challenge,” Polly Monear, coordinator of Vision+Voice at ACC said. “Fortunately, ACC is an Adobe Creative Campus, which means I had access to all of the software I needed to produce the online event. Thanks to a Digital Art class that I recently took through the ACC Art Department, I have the skills and confidence necessary to edit, caption, and piece together over 70 clips of video and sound.”

The special guest of the event was Juan Felipe Herrera, 21st Poet Laureate of the United States, who congratulated winners with a speech in Spanish. The event also featured several ACC staff, teachers, and parents appreciating students for their creativity. Teachers and parents shared ways in which they encouraged their children to write and what motivates them. Despite the event being entirely online, everyone displayed great enthusiasm and support for all the winners. 

“At first it was really disappointing to realize that we were not going to be able to do a face-to-face event,”  Ms. Monear said. “Vision+Voice is the highlight of my year, and I really love meeting the students and their families and making the poets feel special. Once I accepted the reality of the situation I was excited about the new possibilities of doing a virtual event. I was able to connect with US Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, and I think that was a very special addition to the event.”  

As students shared their winning poems, they also shared what inspires them to write these poems, and their advice. “What inspires me is basically what’s happening in the world – world news, government, politics, what the culture is right now, and my hobbies,” Rocha-Leite said. “I try to get inspiration from everything that happens around us, the human condition as a whole, nature, and the places I visit.”

“My advice to other poets is [that] poetry is really a form of art- it’s really open, it’s really creative, so don’t think you’re a bad poet, because there are so many different things you can do with poetry,” Azeez said. “There are so many things you can express in many different ways with poetry. So no one’s a bad poet.”

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  • Thiago Rocha-Leite ’20 reads aloud his winning poem in a recording session at KLRU station, located at UT Austin’s Moody College of Communication. Photo Courtesy of Polly Monear, Vision+Voice Coordinator.

  • Nashitha Azeez ’22 with her mother at KLRU station after having recorded her poem. Photo Courtesy of Polly Monear, Vision+Voice Coordinator.

  • Triambika Dinakaran ’21 recording a recital of her poetry at KLRU station. Photo Courtesy of Polly Monear, Vision+Voice Coordinator.

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