Arts and Culture

In early 2018, the Louisville-based Sarabande Writing Labs, in partnership with the University of Louisville’s Youth Violence Prevention Research Center, hosted a contest called “Voices of Change.”

Local, young women ages 11 through 21 were asked to share their experiences with violence, peace, conflict and healing through poetry. About 20 of those pieces will be featured in an upcoming anthology.

Vanessa Fuller wrote one of the winning entries — a poem called “Mother.” In it, she explores her relationship with her biological mother, who abandoned Fuller as a child, and her stepmother, who was verbally and physically abusive.

Fuller writes in the final stanza:

I watch myself mold my body — a scarred temple.

Now I have three Mothers.

Mother who birthed me, Mother who raised me,

and Mother I am sculpting from the seafoam

and my own spilt blood.

It’s difficult to come to grips with the fact that all the poems featured in the anthology were written by women who are so young; they deal with violence in such a personal and poignant way.

Kristen Miller, Sarabande’s director of educational programming, said that is one of the points of the contest and the resulting anthology.

“Within every corner of our community, you have young people experiencing and coming to terms with things that perhaps are beyond their years, oftentimes,” Miller said. “We have 11- and 12-year-olds published in this volume speaking about experiences with violence and I think it’s an important topic to be brought to the attention of the larger community.”

Not all the poems deal with violence in the traditional sense.

Eli Pajo, 17, was the first-place winner of the contest. Her poem was called “The Almost Mothers of the Greater Louisville Metropolitan Area” and it deals with how frightening and traumatic pregnancy can be.

“It’s a duty that’s been pushed on you whether you realize it or not your entire life,” Pajo said. “Realizing how terrifying it can be because it’s treated like something so normal or natural and then you see a family member go through it and you realize how sanitized it’s treated because it’s gross and scary and bloody.”

The “Voices of Change” anthology will be officially released at a launch party with readings by the winning poets on July 5, at 7 p.m., at Carmichael’s Books on Frankfort Avenue. Both the event and the anthology were made possible through the Imagine 2020 initiative. 

This event is free and the public is welcome to attend.

Ashlie Stevens is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.