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Beyond the verse

Sophomore Victoria Byers explores newfound passions shared through poems
Sofia Ayala
As she sits outside of the auditorium, sophomore Victoria Byers prepares for pictures following her win. Byers placed second in the contest sponsored by the Mockingbird Poetry Society. She continues to participate in contests and in sharing her stories with her community. (Photo courtesy of Victoria Byers)

Verse by verse.

Line by line.

Rhythm by rhythm.

The words craft together into an award-winning poem by sophomore Victoria Byers. Her passion for poetry started in seventh grade when Byers competed in her first competition. Now, she continues sharing her poems for her community and competing in contests – the most recent one being the Collin County Poetry Contest sponsored by the Mockingbird Poetry Society where she took second place for her poem “Along the Velvet Road.”

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Shelly Patterson, Byers’ African American Studies teacher, sparked the idea of writing a poem about “Black Wall Street,” which was a topic they were learning about in class at the time, for this contest.

“I’m in African American studies with Mrs. Patterson, and she brought up Black Wall Street a while back,” Byers said. “I really liked it, and I wanted to get more into it. So, I did a little research, and I was like, this could be a good topic for the poetry contest.”

In Patterson’s Ethnic Studies classes, students focus on learning a variety of historical events that have previously been excluded from course curriculum and books.

“Students sometimes experience a mix of shock and sadness upon first learning about certain events, such at the Tulsa Massacre,” Patterson said. “The focus of the course coalesces around honoring people from the past and being inspired by their resilience. It is not surprising this newfound information would inspire one, such as Victoria, to express her feelings in the form of poetry.”

To craft her poem, Byers spent time researching more about the Tulsa Massacre and incorporating historical events into her poem. Byers mentioned Patterson being a mentor, alongside her English teacher, Jennifer Bedell, during the writing process.

“Mrs. Patterson is really an inspirational teacher,” Byers said. “I think she’s very passionate about what she talks about, and Mrs. (Jennifer) Bedell is too. I didn’t really have a lot of information about the topic, so I spent time learning more about the Tulsa massacre – I never knew about it until this year, and I had to incorporate it into my poem as soon as I started writing it. I was super excited, but I also had no clue what I was doing in the beginning.”

She earned the honor by being a person of high character and notable skill in pursuit of learning and opportunity, as evidenced when she approached me with her finished poem, “Along the Velvet Road,” and asked me to help her submit it to the Collin County Poetry Contest sponsored by the Mockingbird Poetry Society.

— English teacher, Jennifer Bedell

In her poem, Byers incorporated a variety of themes and ideas that occurred during the Tulsa Massacre and crafted a poem into an award-winning piece.

“My favorite thing was talking about everything that happened – like the black excellence that happened,” Byers said. “So in the poem, I mentioned things about hotels, theaters and black all around. It talks about how black people created and made a lot of these things and were really successful for Black Wall Street.”

Byers said her love for poetry stems for the passion she has for storytelling and using imagery to create a story to share moments with her community. One of these moments that inspired her to write this poem goes a few years back to 2022, a time when poetry played a significant role in her life.

“Back in 2022, I was sleeping and my mom randomly woke me up one night saying, ‘Hey, we need to go to the hospital’,'” Byers said. “We had to go to the hospital really quick. My grandma was in pain.”

This moment played a part in Byers recent poem, “Along the Velvet Road,” which she entered to the Collin County Poetry Contest.

“I wrote one of my poems based off of that, and she never knew about it until like this year,” Byers said. “When I had this contest, and I showed her the poem, she really loved it and she happy cried after reading it.”

Members of Byers’ community inspire her to keep writing and explore new ideas she can incorporate into her poems.

“I have a friend who also likes to write, so usually we collaborate on like different stories and what we want our characters to do,” Byers said.  “We usually write a lot when we have the time, and I’m in percussion. I usually like imagining stories with our (band) show because we usually don’t have an offset plot. That’s really fun.”

The process is really simple honestly. We plan the plot, then go with the flow, working as a team to produce ideas and brainstorm effortlessly.

— Francisco Buendia-Fabregas, sophomore

Prior to submitting her poem to this contest, Byers said this was the first contest she submitted a poem to for some time.

“Before I wrote this poem, I hadn’t written a story or a poem in like a year because I was super busy,” Byers said. “As soon as I saw the poetry contest, I wanted to try it, and I’ve been writing ever since.”

The contest required the poem to be a maximum of 20 lines, and the writer had to be anonymous when being reviewed by the panel of judges. Byers received the results months later.

“I think I waited three months before I heard back from them,” Byers said. “The waiting process was really hard the first two months, and then I forgot about it. I got a letter that Mrs. Bedell gave me in the morning, and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I made it. That’s so cool.'”

Byers made it through all of the rounds of callbacks and placed second overall. She continues to share stories through her online platforms, as well as her peers in school.

“Usually I think of special moments I can write about, and I can share with the community,” Byers said. “Whenever I’m writing I share them with people that are going to believe in me because that keeps me motivated. It keeps my passion for writing and sharing stories with others.”

This story was originally published on Eagle Nation Online on May 17, 2024.