English isn’t Ara Armain’s first language, or
his second. But that didn’t stop the trilingual Glendale High School senior from recently advancing to the semifinal round of an English-language poetry competition.
The winners of the International Poetry Contest, sponsored by World Poetry Movement, an organization dedicated to promoting the work of amateur writers, will be announced on Feb. 1.
“I was thrilled,” Armain, 19, said of receiving notice earlier this month that he had been named one of 300 semifinalists up for the $1,000 grand prize.
His poem, “Acceptance,” addresses issues of diversity including religion, ethnic identity and sexual orientation. It was born out of an assignment in his English class — a special, two-hour course designed to advance the language skills of students born in non-native English speaking countries.
“I am really big on authentic assignments, and letting them know they can compete in the real world just as much as a native speaker,” said longtime Glendale High School English teacher Christy Bretz.
Each fall, Bretz encourages her students to enter a poem in the Reflections contest, sponsored by the Glendale Council PTA and designed to foster the arts.
Writing a poem in a non-native language can be intimidating, but her students really get into the process, she said.
“A lot of times I think they are talked down to because English is not their first language,” Bretz said. “I really make a point of stressing that, ‘Hey dude, you can go out and win over anybody here.’ And they usually do.”
But Armain’s poem did not place in the Reflections competition. Frustrated, he spent months rewriting “Acceptance” before submitting it to the International Poetry Contest.
“I have to work really hard,” Armain said of writing. “The last part I wrote in one day. But [the rest] took me a while.”
The rewrite took place between school commitments and work. After immigrating from Armenia two years ago, Armain is racing to earn enough credits to graduate in June and is currently taking eight classes.
“I am helping my family and I am saving for college,” he said.
The budding poet has an aura of compassion and caring about him conveyed in how he conducts himself in class, Bretz said. Having his poem recognized on a major stage is simply one more step, she added.
“It was phenomenal, and it makes him even more confident,” Bretz said.
Editor's note: This story has been updated from an earlier version.