When Tejashree Jadhav, A first-year Whitman College student from Pune, India, entered America’s Best College Poet Competition, she had not yet even been to the United States.
While she may have entered on a whim, the experience introduced her to a community of students and poets in Walla Walla and across the nation.
“The fact that I got this opportunity to write, perform, and surround myself with poetry is incredible” - Tejashree Jadhav
“It’s hard to feel a connection when you are so far away, but this poetry competition let me develop more connections with people and made me feel like I really am a part of this community,” Jadhav says. “It didn't feel so far away anymore.”
Bravely Taking a Stanza
Jadhav generally likes to write short poems, small musings on her thoughts and feelings. “I would only write for my own sake, because it would make me feel better.”
In the first round of the competition, hosted virtually by the Whitman Events Board, Jadhav read a longer poem that she had written about privilege. “I was worried and nervous, but when I spoke my poem, I became more and more confident.”
She placed second in the Whitman competition. At the time, it was thought that
only the first-place poet moved on to the semifinals to compete against poets from other colleges.
“I was very happy and very sad at the same time. I was happy with placing second, but the fact that I was not going ahead in the competition affected me a lot,” says Jadhav. Weeks later, late in the evening, Jadhav received an email notifying her that there had been a misunderstanding and that the top three from Whitman would move on to the semifinals. “I was so happy! I thought 'This is my chance to go ahead in this competition!’”
Before the next round of the competition, Jadhav knew she’d have more time to prepare her poetry and performances.
A Budding Craft and Passion
Since she was a young girl, Jadhav has dabbled in poetry. One of her early poems for school was about a well-respected 17th century king from her home state of Maharashtra.
“My poetry has changed a lot since then,” Jadhav says. In middle school, after writing a poem, Jadhav would perform it at her school for her classmates and friends. Her poems, written in Hindi, English and Marathi, three of the many languages in her region, are performed differently. The language in which she writes influences her expression and performance of the poem.
It was in high school that Jadhav began to use her writing as an emotional outlet.
“Poetry became a way to feel, to cope with a lot of things, to cope with anxiety and stress at times. I think poetry was the form that kept me sane.”
Jadhav is thankful for her ability to express her emotions, and share observations and life experiences, in written word. “Writing poetry allows me to put anything that I can't keep in my head on pages, and I think that’s why most of my high school poetry was a way out. Now, the poems I write are more about my identity, and the problems and influences that shape me and influence my world.”
Jadhav’s family has been instrumental in her poetic journey, offering feedback and support. “My family always gives me encouragement, no matter what I am participating in. They say, ‘You can do this, you will do this!’ Even if I fail, it is a very positive environment they've created and I really cherish it.”
But fail she did not. Jadhav progressed through the rounds of the competition—which were judged by professional touring poets as well as audience vote—and tied for second place in the final round.
Following the excitement of the contest in late October, Jadhav yearned for the day when she’d arrive on campus. “I'm daydreaming about it all of the time, because it is a dream come true, going to Whitman.”