Review: Poetry Fest 2020

Sophomore Rafael Hart reads an original poem during the high school’s annual Poetry Fest.

For 25 years, brave high school students, faculty and alumni have had the opportunity to share their original poetry with a supportive audience of their peers. Although this year’s event took place online, the community was as warm and welcoming as always.

The 2020 Poetry Fest took place at 7 p.m. on April 30. Due to social distancing guidelines, the festival took place entirely on Zoom. Over 20 presenters took turns reading their work aloud with senior Naomi Mirny as the emcee. Despite its unconventional platform, the Poetry Fest allowed members of the Brookline community to present original, genuine and personal poems.

First to present was Mary Burchenal, who founded the Slam Poetry Club and served as head of the English department until 2019. In her poem, “Maybe Back in School,” she wove together evocative imagery to describe the tragedy of an oil spill off the coast of Louisiana.

In the poem, Burchenal discussed her own role as a teacher, wondering if the head of the petroleum company had once been an inattentive student who had missed “the unit on tragedy,” and failed to grasp how “great men are brought low by one moment of inattention.” The poem was poignant and highlighted her passion for teaching and the environment.

Burchenal was followed by freshman Orlee Bracha, who delivered an impactful and vulnerable poem called “Almost Beautiful.” In it, she explained feeling pressured to conform to others’ expectations of beauty. She described society’s ideal woman as having a smile like the moon and a face seemingly sculpted by angels.

“I am trying to let go of that string that keeps pulling me towards her lifestyle but only ever leaves me in knots,” Bracha read.

Eventually, Bracha realizes that physical beauty is only temporary. She discovers her own self-worth, and by the poem’s conclusion, she feels content with being “almost beautiful.” The poem’s rejection of society’s hypocritical and shallow standards was simultaneously heart-wrenching and empowering.

Freshman Valentia Burlak wrote a tribute to her grandfather who passed away due to COVID-19. She reminisced about how happy she had felt when they had visited the aquarium together, vowing to do the same with her future children. She described healing as “a long road,” but looked forward to being able to spread her grandfather’s legacy.

Burlak made it clear how much her grandfather means to her, and her poem drew much praise and admiration from the crowd. She perfectly captured how beautiful—and fragile—human lives can be.

In her poem, senior Naomi Mirny used oatmeal to help describe a hot summer’s day in Boston. She compared the city’s sluggish and heavy atmosphere to porridge. Her poem made me laugh out loud. It was wonderfully humorous and light-hearted.

At the same time, Mirny’s lovely descriptions of “melting chocolate in our pockets and cheeks” and of “the hum and rumble of the red Boston heat” perfectly encapsulated a blistering afternoon in the city.

The final reader was former Headmaster Bob Weintraub. He shared a poem about the privileges he has during the COVID-19 pandemic, expressing sympathy for “a world shrouded in gloom.” Weintraub drew attention to single parents, low-income families and essential workers. He ended his poem on a note of positivity: “Maybe there is light for us. Maybe there is hope for us.”

The Poetry Fest provided a valuable opportunity for students, faculty and alumni to unite and enjoy art for an evening. It demonstrated both the strength of the high school community and the beauty of communication.