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Literary Riot: "Cat Got Your Tongue?", Speaking Out About Violence Against Women

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In collaboration with Get LitGet Lit – Words Ignite unites classic and spoken word poetry to empower youth and inspire communities. By engaging youth in literature in and after school, Get Lit allows teens to become engaged in their own futures and unearth their potential. "Claim your poem, claim your life.”

Ryann Ersoff
iLead North Hollywood, 17 years old
Mila Cuda
iLead North Hollywood, 16 years old
Ashley Flores
iLead North Hollywood, 17 years old

"The Naming of Cats" by T.S. Eliot

Why did you choose your classic poem?
We actually wrote the response first and it was already titled “Her Name was Kitty”. We then looked through the anthology and found a poem called “The Naming of Cats” and thought "This is too perfect."
RE: It was meant to be.

What inspired your response poem?
I research a lot about history, because I love history, and heard about this story of a woman named Kitty Genovese. In 1964, she was walking in the streets of New York and this man named Winston Moseley raped and murdered her. He came back three times and about 37 people saw components of this act take place but did nothing. This is where the bystander effect took notice in history and I thought that it was a fascinating, yet disgusting story of how people can just do nothing when they see other human beings in harm. When I heard her name Kitty, I instantly thought of cat calling and thought “How poetic?” Naturally, I then thought, "Let’s write a poem about it." When we worked together on it, there were so many cat puns but unfortunately we didn’t have room for all of them. There were so many. It was amazing and so fun to work with. Before we went on stage, we kept telling each other to pretend those 37 people were scattered across the audience and we were telling this to them because Kitty never got the chance to. We knew that if she was anywhere in the world at that moment, she was in that room watching us. What's crazy is you see this story referenced so frequently, for example, I just saw Law and Order SVU episode about it, but so many people don’t actually know who she is. I think that is the amazing thing about this poem, we give her a name. Her name is the title of the poem. It is not just the bystander effect anymore, it’s her.

Why did you two (Mila Cuda and Ashley Flores) decide to jump on board?
AF: She pitched the idea to us and we thought “Oh! That’s really great and we really want to be a part of it.” So we hopped in and said, “Let’s do it!”
MC: It was the first time we had poetry practice and we asked “Does anyone have ideas for poems?” and Ryann spoke up. She had one line written and it was “Kitty Genovese, it all starts with a cat call, that night a cat called.” We immediately thought, “Oh! This is going to be awesome and we want to get in on this.” because we had read about Kitty Genovese the year before in our English class. Then, when we started the writing process, we found that it would be easy to take characters on, and so she (Ryann Ersoff) took on the character of Kitty, she (Ashley Flores) took on the character of Winston Moseley, and I took on the character of the narrator who is there to relay the story. In those roles, the poem came together very easily because we knew the person we were channeling and what they would need to say in order to create a coherent story.

What do you enjoy most about poetry?
AF: I think poetry is interesting because you get the chance to have your voice heard by people who are actually willing to listen and not just blow you off. You get to express your opinions and views to people who are so open minded, will actually take into consideration what you are saying and try to understand you.
RE: Yea! I grew up with two attorneys for parents so I was either going to do two things with my life: I was going to lie or I was going to argue. I chose to argue and I think that is what poetry lets me do in way that people listen. It is so much different than any other school activities. For example, I also do speech and debate, but in speech and debate it’s all about you telling people that you are the right and they are wrong in any given argument. In poetry, however, it’s completely different. We are saying that you are right and you have the right to be correct in your own way and I want to listen to your message. Here is my opinion and we can both share our own perspectives.
MC: I find poetry is very community-centered. Since I started poetry last year, all the people I have met have been so friendly and supportive. It's the most supportive environment in the world.
RE: It’s a family.
MC: It completely is and so I feel like that’s what it is about poetry. It's that we are all here for each other. We’re all here for the love that we have developed and fostered together in this community.

As teenagers, do you feel like expressing yourself through poetry has given you a better opportunity for your voice to be heard?
MC: First, I want to say that we were just talking about how people admire youth in poetry earlier. They admire youth that are willing to speak up. Then again, in other situations where we are not given a platform and a mic to share our stories, the youth tends to be disregarded in a sense. They aren’t as listened to because many people think “Oh! They are just kids.” But if they are kids and they are really eager to share their message then it becomes awe-inspiring to them. That paradox is really interesting.
RE: Also, people don’t trust young people. One of my favorite things to do is watch CNN panels because I love hearing people talk but it amazes me how the media gives platforms and voices to ignorant people who spread ignorant propaganda. There is so many educated young people like ourselves who would love to be on a panel and give opinions about issues going on in the world but people don’t trust us to be educated. It doesn't matter how hard we work or how much work we put into our voices. It’s very frustrating.
AF: I think it’s really interesting how people disregard the voices of teenagers. At what age do you become someone that can be heard? Why not start now, when we are young and the most open-minded to developing new opinions? It’s kind of crazy.

What do you each love about the Get Lit program?
MC: I love a lot of things so it’s hard to pinpoint one but what I love about Get Lit is that they are so eager to help. The issues that we were just talking about, about youth not being heard, they are aware of that and their goal, wholeheartedly, is to better the world. They are doing such a good job of that by allowing people to share thoughts and simply creating a community where people can feel safe to do so. That is one of the most beautiful things and I just love that because I love that I can be a part of it and I love that they are trying so hard to accomplish such a great thing.
AF: I am going to branch off of that. They want to better the world and why not start with the roots, the youth, who are eventually going to grow up and be more positive, open-minded and opinionated because it all started from here. They are such supportive people who are letting our voices be heard and doing this for all of our best interest.
RE: Yea! Without Get Lit, none of our voices would have been heard. Literally, there would have been no way for us to voice our opinions and tell people, an audience of 2,000 people, the story of this woman. Thus, nothing would have changed whatsoever. It’s just that one step of giving young people the opportunity and trusting that we have educated opinions and progressive ideals that we want to spread. It’s just a layer of trust that you really don’t see around the world and it’s so disheartening.

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