Aubrey Tabenas and Jill Anne Mallari were the winners of the 17th Annual Valentine N. Sengebau Poetry Competition held at the Marianas High School cafeteria last Monday.
Tabenas, an 8th-grade Francisco M. Sablan Middle School student, romped off with the Junior Division trophy after a compelling performance of Valentine N. Sengebau’s The Task.
Mallari, the winner of the Senior Division this year, is an 11th-grade Mount Carmel School student who performed an original poem she composed, titled Homebound.
The competition is an annual event hosted by the Northern Marianas Humanities Council. As with all past competitions, this year’s contest featured two divisions, a Junior and Senior Division. Competitors in the Junior Division recited poems composed by Sengebau that were published in a 2004 anthology, titled Microchild, while Senior Division competitors recited original poems.
Second and third place in the Junior Division was 8th-grade Dandan Middle School student Daniel Dela Cruz, who performed Mirage by Sengebau, and 8th-grade Hopwood Middle School student Hayden Igisomar, who also performed Mirage.
Rounding out the top three in the Senior Division were Jermaine Yalung and Kaitlyn Balgoa, who are both students of Dr. Rita H. Inos Jr./Dr. High School on Rota and placed second with a duo performance of their original poem, We Belong. Third place in the Senior Division was 12th-grade Marianas High School student Erika Pascual, who performed her original poem, Monachapsis.
In an interview after the event, Mallari said she has been part of the poetry competition since middle school, but this was her first year competing in the Senior Division and composing her original poem. She was pleasantly surprised that she won this year, and hopes to see more students compete next year.
“This is my first time competing in the high school level [and] composing my own poem. …I was really self-conscious about how I would be compared to everyone else, but I’m so grateful for this experience, and hopefully, more people [will] join next time because it’s like your own community, your own family when [you’re] on stage,” said Mallari.
NMHC executive director Leo G. Pangelinan said he was pleased with the turnout this year, as the poem competition was postponed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most importantly, Pangelinan was proud to see this year’s students perform, gain public speaking experience, and push through mental hurdles like stage fright.
“It was inspiring to see so many students decide to come out and do this this year. …I’m proud of the students who may not have recited [their poems] in the way they wanted to, but they kept their poise and stayed [on stage],” said Pangelinan. “I think that’s an important life lesson we bring to students through this opportunity. It teaches them to persevere, [how] to deal with public speaking, and to trust in themselves that it will come back to them. They’ve done it before and they’ll do it again. That’s always good to see.”
Valentine Namio Sengebau, who lived from around 1941 to 2000, was a Palauan poet who made Saipan his home in the latter parts of his life. For almost 30 years while he lived on Saipan, Sengebau wrote dozens of poems for Saipan’s news publications at the time. His work regularly discussed personal, political, and cultural life in Micronesia. NMHC compiled Sengebau’s poetry into an anthology titled Microchild, which was published by NMHC in 2004.
NMHC created the poetry competition to honor the legacy of one of Micronesia’s most outspoken poets, to support young aspiring poets, and to ensure that future generations consume and enjoy his work.
In line with current COVID-19 safety protocols, Monday’s poetry event was limited to 100 attendees.
Judges for the competition this year were Rep. Leila Staffler (D-Saipan), Northern Marianas College professor Adam Walsh, and Pangelinan.