Upper School Celebrates World Languages and Poetry

Upper School Rienzi

The great tradition of celebrating world languages and poetry at Poly continued this year.

Head of the World Languages Department Elisabeth Mansfield welcomed Upper School students and faculty to the annual Upper School Rienzi Showcase held virtually on April 23. This year Rienzi was presented as a prerecorded video.

In French, Keyara Ahmadi ‘22 introduced the Rienzi Showcase performances, which had the theme of Justice this year.

This Year’s Theme Was Justice

“I migrate in vain,” Junie Blaise ’24 recited in French. “In every city I drink the same coffee,” she began “En vain j’émigre” by Moroccan poet Abdellatif Laâbi. She continued, “In vain I migrate, Ensuring my own alienation, I find the same crescent moon in every sky, And the stubborn silence of the stars…”

In Spanish, Ava Skye Rosario ’24 presented,  “Tarjeta de visita” by María Mercedes Carranza. “The world is what I look at…the milky back of the hills at dawn, light that receives the oblique light of the afternoon…”

The Mandarin 2 Class recited, ”Sympathy for Peasants”  by Li Shen, which begins: “Cultivating the grains at noon/Sweat dripping into the earth beneath/Who would have thought the food on your plate/each and every grain came from hard work…”

Mandarin 2 Class recites ”Sympathy for Peasants”  by Li Shen.

Next, Calliope Lisak ’21 recited “Hymn to Aphrodite” by the Greek poet Sappho, who wrote in the late seventh and early sixth centuries BCE. 

In Spanish, Shaza Mousa ’23 readPor qué cantamos” by Mario Benedetti, a native of Uruguay and known as “the literary voice of the progressive left in Latin America.” She read, “If each hour brings its death, If time is a den of thieves, The breezes carry a scent of evil, and life is just a moving target, You will ask why we sing?/If your finest people are shunned/Our homeland is dying of sorrow/and the human heart is shattered…” to a backdrop of photos of soldiers taking prisoners. The answer to “why” comes, “We sing because of the child and because of everything and because of some future and because of the people.”

Lulu Timoney ’20 then sang “Por qué cantamos” by Mario Benedetti accompanied by her brother Jack Timoney ’20 on guitar.

More Poetry Presentations

Jake Zrihen ’22 presented “Ce coeur qui haïssait la guerre” by French Surrealist poet Robert Desnos, who was an active member of the French Resistance during World War II: “This heart that used to hate war is now beating for fighting and battle…” The poem began while photos of occupied Paris, resistance fighters, and war played.

IZ Nissen ’24 presented “Si un dia en la esquina de tu calle, te alcanza la muerte” by Colombian poet Carlos Aguasaco, about “dying amidst the Narcos and Federals.”

The Mandarin 3 Class took turns reciting lines from “Nostalgia” by Yu Guangzhong, a poem about homesickness, which ended with “I, on this side, the mainland on the other” and a map of Taiwan.

Maia Kovaleski ’24 presented “Et Trancher” in French by Louise DesBrusses, with the theme of being a stranger in our times of COVID and racism:  “Strange are you, Stranger you are…. You hate the stranger.” 

In Spanish, Max Schuman ’21 presented “America Latina” by Peruvian singer-songwriter and ethnomusicologist Nicomedes Santa Cruz, speaking of faces from all over Latin America over the images of colonial history and  more recent political protests throughout Latin America.

In “Mother Africa” by Eritrean poet Ribka Sibhatu, Olivia Gryson ’21 began the poem reading, “Cradle of mankind, baobab of the soul in your savannahs and sacred forests death dances…”

Students in Dr. Angela Gittens’ Upper School American Sign Language (ASL) class signed  “What’s Going On” by singer-songwriter Marvin Gaye. Below, enjoy an excerpt:

An excerpt of “What’s Going On” by singer-songwriter Marvin Gaye, signed by students in Dr. Angela Gittens’ Upper School American Sign Language (ASL) class.

The Mandarin 4 Class presented a very timely poem,  “The Study of Face Mask,” by Chen Liming, which speaks of how minuscule the face mask is compared to the vastness of the sea, “but right now we need them.”

In “Detention”  by D. P., a poem about prisons, presented in French, Zoe Feuer ’22 recited the lines about how some countries that “talk of great freedom, raise their justice like a flag…but bury deeply their worst nightmares.”

In Spanish, Colin McMillan ’24 read,  “El monte y el río” by the Nobel Prize winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, which begins, “In my country there is a mountain, in my country there is a river…Come with me. Who are those who suffer? I do not know, but they are my people.”

As Brianna Khrakovsky ’22 recited “Ce que nous voulons” in French by Moroccan poet Abdellatif Laâbi, we watched her dance to the haunting words of a migrant.

Brianna Khrakovsky ’22 recited “Ce que nous voulons” in French by Moroccan poet Abdellatif Laâbi.

In French, Rayeeda Mahmud ’23 read, “Ici vit” by the Ivorian poet Tanella Boni, in which she says, “Here lives the Black man with fear in his stomach, this fear is constantly repressed, constantly brought to the light…”

Spanish IV A student Sammy Chiaino ’22 presented “La tierra es un satélite de la luna” by Nicaraguan poet and freedom fighter José Leonel Rugama, “The earth is a satellite of the moon,” and goes on to talk about the cost of the Apollo program to put a man on the moon and compares it to the hunger of the Acahualinca people over generations.

Mariama Diallo ’22 and Atiya Pope ’23 recited  “Latinoamérica,” a song by Puerto Rican alternative hip hop band Calle 13: “I am what they left behind… the most beautiful faces I have ever met” about the many faces and spirit of Puerto Rico.

Video by/hecho por Mariama Diallo ’22 y Atiya Pope ’23, Canción: Latinoamérica de Calle 13

“L’homme qui te ressemble” by  René Philombe was presented by Keelin Walshe ’23 in French. The poem, which begins, “I knocked at your door. I knocked at your heart…why did you turn me away?” tells the story of the other, the stranger, “because I am a man.”

Sundiata Gittens ’23 presented a creative rap, “L’homme qui te ressemble,” which began, “Hope y’all learn ‘about racism & the racism in em and it’s not all about the Westside but in fact it’s worldwide…. And there’s a lot we gotta fix…”

In French, Jack Yan ’22 sang,  “L’homme qui te ressemble” (The man who resembles you) by René Philombe to music Jack composed.

Kai Kang’s AP Mandarin Class recited Industrial Zones by poet Xiaoqiong, which begins, “Lamps burn bright, buildings burn bright, machines burn bright, fatigue burns bright…Inside the factories, so many dialects, so much homesickness, So many frail and skinny workers dwell there…”

Keyara Ahmadi ’22 returned at the end to speak in Spanish about what students learned about justice from this project and to thank everyone for coming to the Upper School Rienzi  Assembly. “Each of the poems we recited have their own stories and significance…It is important to know that the fight for justice is a long-term fight and we have to remain persistent.”

To conclude the Rienzi,  Charlotte Knutsen ’21 sang “Auf Flügeln des Gesanges” (On Wings of Song) by Felix Mendelssohn in German, accompanied on piano by her father, Rick Knutsen.