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This Kensington resident is responding to gentrification in her neighborhood through poetry

I started writing poetry 13 years ago when I was in middle school, but it wasn’t until ninth grade that my love for it really grew. I had a wonderful English teacher who really made us think outside of the box, and always showed us new ways to expand on how we think about poetry, and how we experience the words we read and write. I always preferred free verse poems because I liked that I didn’t have to be confined by lines, placement, or pauses; it was a liberating way to get the words in my head onto paper and give them proper meaning without the restrictions that we typically see with essays or more traditional forms of poetry. 

I was always uncomfortable sharing what I wrote because my pieces tend to be very personal to what is happening in my day-to-day life and the environment around me, but my teacher really pushed for me to get outside of my comfort zone by trying new styles and sharing my pieces. In my poems, I tend to hide multiple meanings between the lines through metaphors or images —  hoping to evoke thought. We all experience the world around us differently, and so if my poems are interpreted one way or another, I don’t mind because I love to see what ideas or thoughts it brings to light for people. 

I go under the pen name saltxrosetopaz, which pays homage to one of my favorite sonnets written by Pablo Neruda, a well-known Chilean poet and Nobel Prize winner. In my pen name, I see salt as the sharp, searing sensations life brings us, rose as the soft, subtle aspects of life, and topaz as a sort of stimulating energy we as humans crave. The line that influenced my pen name reads:

 “I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,   

or arrow of carnations that propagate fire … ”

My pieces tend to fluctuate between those three themes. This piece I’d argue falls between the salt and the topaz. There’s this energy around my community in Kensington that soon we won’t have a place here anymore as Philadelphia continues to gentrify. Yet, it also evokes this fire, frustration, and hurt as we vocalize our concerns and they continue to be ignored by developers, city agencies, and those in positions of power. My poem “d i s p l a c e d ,” metaphorically and physically showcases the spaces in our neighborhood that are growing in between us and separating the sense of community I have found in my home over the years. The format came out of a conversation with a good friend of mine Ivana, as we discussed what this poem meant to me and the way in which I read it aloud. I hope that you as the reader can follow along with my thought process and see what I am trying to showcase throughout the piece as I experience my neighborhood rapidly changing before me. 

To listen Jasmin Velez recite her poem, listen below:

d i s p l a c e d,

by jasmin velez (saltxrosetopaz). 

Don’t ask me to evoke years of suppressed trauma 

not for a puff piece, where you’ll misquote or erase me. 

Just like they’ve done to my home, soon the rises will be above Penn. 

Don’t send for us then, when it’s no longer a problem of inequality but inconveniences.

Don’t forget you allowed them the lenience;

to destroy my home and it’s grit — 

misguided allegiance only concerned what you get from it. 

It didn’t matter that the cost was astronomical 

no, no you found them economical. 

Small split lofts filled with shallow friendships 

no regard to where my community would end up. 

Sheep following voices of the rich, thinking they’ll be loyal ‘til they switch—

up on you faster than they built those rises. 

Replaced community from within outward; shifty pitches til they corrupt ya. 

Overpowered by polite words, camouflaged sabotage, it’s only a matter of time before they backstab y’all. 

Wannabe’s from the south turned northbound, who don’t deal with the drilling sounds and mounds of corruption. 

Oops did I forget to mention? Yeah yeah: they’re the face of gentrification. 

And they’ve confused equity for displacement.

Editors: Zari Tarazona, Claire Wolters / Designer: Henry Savage

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