District Home
Login

Maya Salameh Selected as 2016 National Student Poet

Full Union Tribune Article, Click Here

 

 — The papers in her hand crackling, Maya Salameh stepped behind a microphone in the White House State Dining room Thursday afternoon and read:

“I speak to you: terrorists, skyjackers, lifejackers and otherwise-flavored peddlers of sacred hearsay,” she began.

The 16-year-old from San Diego and four other high school students have been selected as the 2016 National Student Poets, and will spend the next year sharing their poetry, and encouraging others to write their own.

“I speak to you, for senseless violence has no part in my definition of humanity,” Maya said, ending her poem. “I speak to you, because blind faith is no faith.”

The 5-year-old program created by the Obama administration honors student poets from five areas of the country. Students begin the program by reading their poetry at a White House reception, then spend a year attending poetry classes and art festivals, and doing community service projects. Past student poets have focused on teaching poetry to female prison inmates, wounded veterans and children.

Maya said she hasn’t decided on a project, but she would like to work with immigrants, especially children. She is the oldest daughter of Lebanese Americans, and the two poems she provided as examples of her work discuss the intricacies of being Arab-American and the effects of war.

When she visited Lebanon with her father toward the end of middle school, she began to think of herself as a writer.

“It was when I realized that being Arabic could be seen as different, and not in a good way,” she said. “It really made me question my identity, what does it mean to be Arab or American?”

Maya said she’s often inspired by news events and writes poems on the bus or between classes.

“There’s always these free spaces when no one is asking anything of you and no one tells you, this is this deadline. That’s where my mind can kind of gallivant wherever it wants,” she said.

Students also get a $5,000 scholarship. Maya, a junior at the San Diego High School of International Studies, wants to study psychology or diplomacy, hopefully at a California university.

The event was another in a series of lasts before the Obamas leave the White House in January, and first lady Michelle Obama got teary eyed as more than a dozen alumni of the program stood to recite portions of a poem about how being a National Student Poet changed their lives.

“We knew that we wanted to use this incredible platform of the White House to inspire our young people to dream really big for themselves, to think about what their lives could look like beyond what their everyday existence is like,” Obama said.

More than 70,000 10th and 11th grade students have applied through the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, with just five selected each year by a panel of poets and artists.

“We chose you because we believe you can handle this,” Obama told the poets, some of whom were visibly nervous. “You never know where you’ll end up.”

Wire writes for the California News Group, publisher of the Union-Tribune and Los Angeles Times.

Here’s the poem Maya read at the White House:

sacrilege incorporated

i speak to you

terrorists, skyjackers, lifejackers

and otherwise-flavored peddlers

of sacred hearsay

i speak to you

just fyi

just for your illumination

god is not

a mcdonald’s franchise

you don’t hold any right to sell, market, or

otherwise operate in his name

i speak to you

for now is the time

to open your eyes

to close your pocketbooks

no prophets have ever had

swiss bank accounts

i speak to you

for if you love god

you would not lie

in his name

you would not kill

in his name

you would not explode

in his name

i speak to you

for the only god you seem to know

is the god of destruction

always thirsty

for more blood, more tears,

more futures gone wrong

i speak to you

for children

belong to no creed

and if holiness exists

it is the selflessness that runs in their

veins

i speak to you

for the magnetic attraction of violence

keep no home

in the nonpolar

hearts of the young

i speak to you

for senseless violence

has no part

in my definition of humanity

i speak to you

because blind faith

is no faith