Student Spotlight Menelik Washington ’09

Many students at PA enjoy dividing their time amongst a litany of activities. Perhaps one of the best examples is Menelik Washington ’09. Washington is not only a varsity athlete, but also one of Phillips Academy’s most respected poets. On the rare occasions he performs his poems, crowds are left stunned by his talent. Many would be dumbfounded to learn that he does not actually seek opportunities to share his work and that he has considerable stage fright. Instead, for Washington, writing poetry is an emotional outlet and a form of thinking. If beautiful works of poetry are a result of this stress, that’s all the better. Washington shared his thoughts, experiences and aspirations in an interview with The Phillipian. Explain your/the style of slam poetry. What makes it different from other types of poetry? I actually don’t think [my poetry] is slam poetry. I only read it because people pressure me into it. I have a lot of stage fright. I guess you could say what makes my poetry different is that it’s not meant to be performed. I always get off stage before I get too shy. How/when did you begin seriously writing poetry? Performing? I always thought I was seriously writing when I was little. I realize now that I wasn’t. I think I started taking myself seriously when I was around nine. I would say that even then I was a foolish young man. What can you do? What inspires your poetry? Women definitely inspire my poetry. Pretty much everything I have written has something to do with a woman. It just kind of happens. Some have to do with the tricks of women. I hope I don’t get slapped for saying that. Do you have a process for writing poetry or is it just free thinking? I sit down with a pen and I try to write stuff. Sometimes it works, and sometimes I just end up doodling for five minutes and then say ‘Forget it.’ Was there ever anyone who inspired you to become more serious about writing? Well, I don’t take myself too seriously because I realize there’s no reason to. Writing is more of a hobby, something to do. Do you use poetry as an emotional outlet, especially at PA? Yes, I have in the past especially. When it works, it allows me to clear my head and keeps me from doing all the bad things I could do. It’s a way to process information. When I write, the thoughts and information are gone from my head. Then, I don’t have to worry so much. Many poets sometimes team up with musicians to write songs. Is this something you’ve done? If not, would you ever consider doing so? I would definitely consider teaming up with a musician, but I don’t like rhyming very often in my poetry, which would make things difficult. I don’t usually do so because rhyming limits you as a poet. Also, I can’t really control my writing in the way that song-writing needs. Putting my words to music would be difficult. Do you plan on continuing being a serious poet in college? For a career? A: I’ll keep writing but I’m actually already retired from reading in public, except for my final English project. Maybe later in life if I have enough good stuff, I’ll publish a book under someone else’s name. Other than that, I think it’ll just be something that’ll come up in my biography. [Laughs] Being involved in athletics as well as the arts, do you feel that you have transcended social grouping and stereotyping, which is common in most high schools? No, especially at this school, there’s no real reason to group people into strong, prejudged social groups. Saying negative things about someone who writes poetry and also plays sports is just going to make you seem stupid. I don’t think that PA is a place where those boundaries are really set in stone. Maybe home in New York, it’d be a different story. What advice would you give to young PA poets? Put together a series of words that you think sounds pretty. Then do it again. After a while, hope that it makes some sense. Anything you’d like to add? Taylor Hall is the greatest dorm on campus. Is that good?