In quarantine, Ayelet Fishman of Kemp Mill is “doing a lot of sleeping,” while she also catches up on painting and writing.
A passionate poet, the 17-year-old senior at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School has made the finalist round of The Gaithersburg Book Festival High School Poetry Contest.
“I have always enjoyed writing, mainly in the form of writing songs when I was younger,” she says in an email. “Sometimes poetry flows with the words I write more than a melody, so I turn it into a poem.”
Her favorite poem is “Paper People” by Harry Baker. Her favorite poet is Indian-born Canadian poet Rupi Kaur.
In the beginning, poetry was a bit of a game to Ayelet. She liked to piece together rhyming words like a puzzle. But now, “I have found that, often, non-flowing poems can have more meaning than ones in a certain structure.”
“Poetry is ultimately a time capsule of not only events at the time they are written, but also of our emotions and thoughts about those moments in time,” says Serena Agusto-Cox, poet, editor and Gaithersburg Book Festival Poetry Contest coordinator. “It can be a balm … but it also can be a dialogue between the poets and their readers.”
Ayelet’s poem “13 Ways to Kill a Cactus” and the other finalists were chosen by a panel of judges, young published writers themselves.
“The judging process was blind in that each entry had no identifying information on the poems read by the judges,” says Agusto-Cox.
Meanwhile, people can vote for fan favorite through May 8. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners and fan favorite will be announced May 20 in a video post by poetry critic Elizabeth Lund. Ayelet is identified as Rina Fishman, her first name.
She says her favorite line in her poem is “Water can’t seep through unless there are cracks/Too much love/Like a band aid.”
It represents the idea that giving too much love can sometimes be hurtful. “It is sometimes easier to give too much than to understand when to stop,” she says.
While this can apply to something dark like an abusive relationship, Ayelet was actually inspired by her dog.
“I have a long-running theory that he will cuddle with anyone else in my family but me, and I think it is because I tend to give him too much attention,” she says.
The finalists promoted their work online and in recorded readings.
“What shouldn’t surprise anyone is how enterprising young people are,” said Agusto-Cox. “We’re still celebrating their voices, and the community can hear what creative poets we have growing up here in the region and what issues and struggles are important to them.”
The Gaithersburg Book Festival, scheduled for May 16, is cancelled. Organizers are planning online programs, according to the festival website.
What’s important to Ayelet right now is that she is safe with her family. In the fall, she plans to begin her freshman year at Tulane University.
Carolyn Conte is a reporter for the Baltimore Jewish Times, an affiliated publication of Washington Jewish Week.