Ode to an Honors Student

by Charmi Ajmera

Shelby Handler at a poetry slam
Shelby Handler at a poetry slam

by Shelby Handler

When the alarm peals
beside you just an hour
before sunrise, derail your own sleep.
Glide out of your mattress.
Do not notice if it's dark or not.

When night vaporizes
through the window, recognize
that it is day. Watch the sun
being hoisted up in the East,
hung like a flaming
pearl. Everyone else everywhere looks up
too. Go
brew the coffee.

When it slithers
against your throat, a steaming
and liquid locomotive, wonder if
it is too strong.
Withdraw the yellow mug from your hand.
Do not finish the cup.

When you cloak yourself
under cotton and denim,
the new day rupturing over
you like the open flesh of a wound
uncovered, allow the decay.
Let the blood rush from your body.
Keep your organs unfastened.

Remember how you doubted it all,
as the sun rose through
the window, hours before, the bleary
light infecting the kitchen as you
waited for it to get to you.

Remember your act of faith:
This is the moment that I know
it's not over. This is the moment this particular day
has begun.

Poetry is just one way that this Honors student in the English and Women Studies department has been able to express herself. If you've noticed the spike in verse, measure, meter and rhyme around campus this year, you can count on the fact that Shelby Handler, or one of the many organizations she works with, has been behind this effort. Shelby is just one example of the exceptional students that are a part of the Honors Program. Here is a glimpse at a few of the organizations and activities that our students engage in here at the UW.

One of the organizations striving to bring more poetry to campus is the Manic Mouth Congress (MMC), a student-led literary arts collective that is dedicated to bringing the spoken and written word to the minds, eyes and ears of UW students. Started in 2009, the MMC has been working hard to host a series of poetry slams, open mics and related events on and around campus to encourage appreciation, exposure and expression of poetry in its many forms. The congress also competes nationally at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) and placed 6th last year. Shelby is an officer in this collective and was awarded a Mary Gates Leadership Scholarship for her work with the organization. She is also one of five UW students who will be competing in this year's CUPSI competition.

In conjunction with her fellow officers, Shelby has been working to collaborate with several other organizations on campus to introduce poetry to her fellow students. As a part of this effort, she's used her connection to another organization she's involved with, the Campus Coalition for Sexual Literacy (CCSL), to team up with MMC and host events like the "Night of Erotic Poetry." Shelby describes events like this as being geared towards "finding approachable ways to discuss sexuality. First we want to approach it in a relatable way, then factual."

In addition to her work with the MMC, Shelby also serves on the UW Common Book committee as a Student Ambassador and was part of the decision to make this year's book one of poetry. The committee will be working with Manic Mouth to host a poetry festival this spring, which included a unique event called the "Encyclopedia Show" where a word from the encyclopedia is chosen and a students submitted a piece (poetry, art, multi-media, etc.) that is an interpretation or reflection of this theme.

The goal of this work is to spur exploration and discussion of poetry, As Shelby puts it, the message is "Poetry has something to do with your life; you just don't know it yet." Along with MMC and the Common Book Committee, Shelby hopes to make poetry more interdisciplinary, not just something for English majors and slam artists, but for math majors, biologists, engineers, social scientists - all students on this campus.

The concept of being interdisciplinary is one that Shelby, and indeed all Honors students, are very familiar with. Ideas like this, as well as her experiences in the honors college have been very influential in the work that she does. As she described it, "Honors provides a smaller community to springboard off of. It gives students a chance to learn about and experiment with different fields" Citing HONORS 100 - a seminar that all Honors freshmen are required to take in order to introduce them to the various departments and fields of study available at the UW - Shelby noted how being in Honors has been a great way for her to "discover avenues through which to get involved." The community atmosphere in the classes has also been great. As Shelby noted, "The strength of them is the level of involvement. Students are more willing to discuss and engage in ways you don't always see in other classes."

Be sure to keep an eye out for all of the awesome poetry events happening on and around campus over the next few months. Read it, write it, "spit it" or slam - poetry is all around us, thanks to the efforts of students like Shelby Handler and her fellow poets.