Friday Gratitude: I Won a Poetry Contest

Happy Friday, everyone! I am so happy to announce that a poem I wrote, titled “Addiction,” won third place in a “reverse poetry contest” for The New Social Worker Magazine. You can read it here.

Media consumption this week …

The book’s author, Michael Booth, is an Englishman married to a Danish woman. After living in Denmark for several years, he decided to write a book about Scandinavia. As he noted: “A journalist writing in the British Sunday Times recently described this part of the world as ‘a collection of countries we can’t tell apart.'”

This book is laugh-out-loud funny in parts. “In Sweden, the concept of being ‘fashionably late’ is akin to being ‘fashionably flatulent.'” (I think Booth is a funnier writer than Bill Bryson.)

Haha. Here are some fun facts I learned while reading this book:

  • People in Denmark like hygge (pronounced “hooga”) which, according to this book, basically means you sit around with your friends and family and make endless hours of small talk while avoiding more interesting and potentially controversial topics of conversation.
  • Iceland underwent a major financial crisis in 2008 when all three major privately owned banks defaulted.
  • Norway used to be a land of fishermen and farmers until they struck oil in 1969, which means it now has: “the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world. And I don’t mean per capita — we are talking in absolutes.”
  • According to PISA, Finland has the best education system in the world. Why? It isn’t due to classroom sizes (average) or the length of the school day (only four hours). It is because all of their teachers have master’s degrees. “In Finland, teaching attracts the brightest students … teacher-training courses can be harder to get into than those of law or medicine.” I also learned that Finns are extremely taciturn but blunt when they do speak. I think these might be my people.
  • Swedish women have subsequently seen their position in society advance even more comprehensively thanks to a raft of policies concerning gender equality, childcare, and positive discrimination.” Can I move there?

This book contained many more interesting facts about Scandinavia. I wish I could include them all here. Maybe you should just read the book. 🙂

Happy St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow! I’m not sure if I have any plans to celebrate but I’ll be in Ireland in two weeks anyway. 😉


My 15 Minutes of Fame

“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.” — Andy Warhol

I don’t know about being “world famous,” but I did briefly appear on Kosovo television in December. I was one of the organizers of Kosovo’s national “Po-e-Zë” poetry recitation competition. I didn’t realize I was on television until Sierra texted me that night to say she had seen me!

In this video, the first-prize high school winner and the Peace Corps Volunteer from her school are interviewed. I thought this might be interesting to post in case any of you are curious to hear what Albanian sounds like. Or, if you’d like to skip ahead to my (very brief) appearance, I come in at about the 4:09 mark.

(I hope my Vimeo channel doesn’t get flagged for posting this, although there are no copyright laws in Kosovo [or if there are, they aren’t enforced]).

This was probably the biggest, or one of the biggest, secondary projects I’ve undertaken (after my grant proposal). The actual day turned out to be a lot of fun!

KETNET Presentation on Po-e-Zë

On Saturday, my friend Val and I presented at Kosovo’s 7th annual KETNET conference. KETNET stands for Kosova English Teachers’ Network (their website is here).

kosovo ketnet teacher conference.jpg

I am helping Val organize Po-e-Zë, a national English language poetry recitation competition. The competition started in Albania. Val and another Peace Corps volunteer brought it to Kosovo last year. My students participated, which I wrote about in this post.

Our goal in presenting at KETNET was to spread the word and get more local teachers involved in the competition, even if they don’t have a Peace Corps volunteer at their school.

After our presentation, a student who competed last year gave a speech on what competing meant to her. Then, she recited her poem.

Getting ready to present …

This is one of the bigger secondary projects in which I’ve been involved. I am looking forward to working with my students on memorizing their poems, hosting a local competition, and then organizing the national competition in Pristina in December.

Coffee afterward

Related post:

Hello! by Alba Arifi (a poem by a Kosovar high school student)


Hello! by Alba Arifi (a poem by a Kosovar high school student)

At the beginning of December, before a week-long Peace Corps training, I was hanging out with some other volunteers in Pristina. They were going to a poetry slam competition at a local high school. Since I had nothing else to do, I decided to tag along. Honestly, I expected to be bored for two hours. (How exciting can a high school poetry slam competition be, #amIright?) But I was absolutely BLOWN AWAY by the talent of these students.

Another volunteer helped judge the competition, and she put me in touch with Alba Arifi, who wrote my favorite poem. Alba has graciously agreed to allow me to post her poem, Hello!, on this blog. So without further adieu …

Poet Alba Arifi

Hello! by Alba Arifi

Hello you!
You know me, for sure.
I come from far away, risen from the ashes of my childhood
Hello! I know this is unexpected
You never thought you’d see me again, for sure.
But I saw you today
So I thought I’d say hello!
Not that I am a big fan, I already have your signature, written all over me.
Not that I wanted to hear your voice,
It still haunts me in the dark, like a terrifying lullaby that takes your sleep away.
Not that I missed your touch, for I can still feel it, everyday, every minute, ripping away my purity.
Because I still have trouble breathing from the day you used my halo to choke me on my innocence
Hello! I’m the one you left in ruins, you said you mean no harm, and I didn’t know you have no idea what “no harm” means.
Hello! The ghost of the past Christmas.
Not pleased to see you here, on the bus, who knew! You’re just another person.
Isn’t it funny? How no one in this bus has any idea what a horrifying beast you are,
how that young lady sits next to you,
never knowing what you are.
Makes you really wonder,
how many vicious animals do we cross paths with,
never to know what they really are.
Hello! I want to ask you if you know that your touch is some kind of dark magic.
Do you know that it can ruin a life?
Hello! I wanted my first time to be special,
with someone I feel deeply for but I didn’t mean this.
Because I feel a deep hate for you,
but I meant for it to be love.
I never asked for it to be THIS “special”
I wanted to remember my first time, but I guess I should have been more careful with what I wished for, because now I can never get it out of my mind.
Perhaps the best way to improve memory is trying to forget
See, wishes do come true.
Hello! I’m sorry for disturbing,
I just want to feed you with a little of this poetic poison inside of me.
From the touch that I deeply abhor
Make you eat the forbidden fruit that feeds your ego
And take from me the felicity that makes me whole.
And when the night comes, I’m stuck with the ambiguousity of life
“To be or not to be?”
From what I’ve tasted of sorrow
I stand with those who live for tomorrow
Even though life made me the prey
with my pain I’ll be the hunter
And I’ll sure make you pay
In a non poetic way.