By Allison Collins
UNATEGO – World-renowned National Poetry Slam-winning and Pushcart Prize-nominated spoken word poet and former Unategan Sierra DeMulder returned to her old stomping grounds for two poetry assemblies and an accompanying upperclassmen workshop on Tuesday, April 25. The event, organized by student council president Cambre Codington, coincided with the school’s recognition of April as National Poetry Month.
High school principal Julie Lambiaso opened the high school assembly by recognizing, “We are very, very blessed to have some amazing alumni come back to Unatego.”
Codington, a senior, explained that it had been a goal of hers for some time to bring DeMulder to Unatego. “We thought of getting her to come last year, Cassidy Frazier and I, because we were trying to get a poetry assembly here and both were huge fans of her work,” said Codington. (Frazier graduated from Unatego in 2016.) After an event failed to come together last year, Codington said, “I continued the project this year and actually got it to happen.”
For her part, DeMulder, who has four published books and has performed in 40 states and six international shows, said, “It all started here. This is where I realized that I liked poems and writing and creating.”
Though her performance would include pieces discussing heartache, sexuality, mental illness, loss, abuse, forgetting, remembering and celebrating existence and all its alternately joyful and bittersweet messiness, DeMulder began simply, dedicating her first poem to the student audience. Appropriately entitled “Dear You,” DeMulder implored, “This moment has waited its whole life for you … nothing would be the same if you did not exist. Today, you made it.”
Throughout her delivery, DeMulder encouraged the students to “use poetry for empowerment and articulation,” saying, “It’s a great tool for that.” A Unadilla native, DeMulder routinely facilitates shows and workshops at high schools, but also at homeless shelters, women’s centers and prisons.
DeMulder, who shared a handful of poems spanning several of her books, called it “an honor to come back” to Unatego, though heartily encouraged students during a post-performance question-and-answer session to think beyond high school and the easy, sometimes stagnating comfort of small town living. “The world is so big and expansive, but it begins here,” said DeMulder. “See as much of it as it offers – people, landscapes, careers. This is just the starting point.”
Before braking off to a roughly 20-student dedicated poetry workshop, DeMulder told aspiring creatives in the crowd, “Your words and your thoughts are exactly what you need to say” and encouraged all artists, “consume your craft … form a community.”
During the breakout session, DeMulder worked with students in grades nine through 12, calling it a chance to “work out your poetic muscles [and] translate a black and white world into colors.” DeMulder employed various prompts, writing techniques and select readings to guide participants toward bettering their work.
With regard to the workshop, Codington noted, “I thought it was surprising that so many people were actually writers in our school that hadn’t really ‘said’ anything about it until the workshop, so it was a good thing that we had it.”
Overall, Codington was pleased with DeMulder’s visit and shared that her peers seemed to find it meaningful and effective. “I thought the day went really well,” said Codington. “I’ve had people reach out to me about how much they enjoyed it and how it ‘opened their eye’ to the world of poetry,” said Codington, adding, “So I’d say overall that it couldn’t have gone much better than it did.”