By Jessica Liu
“I always try to incorporate poetry into whatever I do,” Ashley Hajimirsadeghi said, grinning. A rising junior at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), Hajimirsadeghi’s passion for poetry has continued throughout her college years, and she has continuously found ways to push her boundaries in the craft. Her work, packed with poignant imagery and powerful language, lingers long in the mind after just one read.
Hajimirsadeghi experienced her beginnings as a poet in a magnet school with specialized majors. There, she majored in Literary Art as part of a 15-person cohort. Her pieces were routinely critiqued in workshops by both peers and professionals, helping her build a thick skin to constructive criticism. The rigorous nature of her major also bolstered Hajimirsadeghi’s work ethic: “You learn about hard work when you have to finish a 20-page short story in three days,” she laughed.
The intensive atmosphere of Hajimirsadeghi’s school could sometimes be daunting, with talented writers—including YoungArts winners and a National Student Poet—surrounding her. However, the opportunities presented to Hajimirsadeghi allowed her artistic voice to flourish. Her confidence grew as she began to submit her writing to competitions and literary magazines, accumulating 26 Gold Keys, Silver Keys, and Honorable Mentions in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards by the end of her high school career. The thesis she developed and self-published in her senior year, composed of around 100 poems, also cultivated her love for writing. “I think my life would have been completely different if I never went to [my magnet school],” Hajimirsadeghi said. “That made me realize writing is a serious, legitimate career.”
Hajimirsadeghi’s transition from high school to FIT came with a whirlwind of changes. Lacking knowledge of the New York writing community, Hajimirsadeghi had to “start over.” “It creatively strangled me for a bit,” Hajimirsadeghi noted. However, she has learned to channel her new experiences into her art. As an International Trade major with a focus on Human Rights, Hajimirsadeghi draws literary inspiration from stories she has been exposed to, such as those of factory workers in Bangladesh. “New York City is just so vibrant. I can’t imagine writing anywhere else,” Hajimirsadeghi enthused.
Throughout Hajimirsadeghi’s diverse experiences, her love of poetry has remained consistent, yet her craving for innovation has flourished. Over her time at FIT, Hajimirsadeghi has delved into hybrid poetry, or poetic prose, such as Ocean Vuong’s "On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous." Twitter, the Internet, and writing workshops she attends outside of FIT—such as those at Brooklyn Poets, where she has been granted a fellowship—have granted Hajimirsadeghi various platforms to explore a variety of poetic forms.
The main fuel for Hajimirsadeghi’s art is her desire to tell stories: “It’s a different way to understand the world and build empathy and compassion.” Her motivation also stems from seeing the reactions of her readers to her work. In her senior thesis, Hajimirsadeghi touched on issues like her struggle with mental health, and the collection inspired many younger kids; one of those who read her book even told Hajimirsadeghi it inspired them to write their own poetry. The ease with which Hajimirsadeghi’s poetry connects to its audience originates in part from its themes of melancholy, loss, and trauma, experiences that are particularly relevant among marginalized communities.
Despite Hajimirsadeghi’s successes, her identity as an Iranian-American has posed challenges to her life as an artist. As a regional judge for a prestigious writing competition, Hajimirsadeghi found that pieces were often prioritized for their racial focus rather than the level of their craft. In her primarily white poetry class at FIT, various of Hajimirsadeghi’s poems were complimented for being foreign, yet this praise felt sour: “I don’t like getting called ‘exotic’ or getting published just because I’m ‘cultural’ or ‘ethnic,’ because that’s objectifying me for who I am,” Hajimirsadeghi said.
Even though Hajimirsadeghi has experienced the repercussions of the racial disparities in the art world first-hand, she believes in the capacity for change both on the institutional and individual levels. One of the examples she cites is POETRY Magazine, which has recently come under fire for a sparse four-sentence-long statement on the Black Lives Matter movement. In a powerful move of unity, 1800 poets signed an open letter calling for the magazine to direct more of its $250 million endowment toward racial equity and countering injustice. Hajimirsadeghi believes in the power of teens to combat racial inequity as well. “Talk about it. Why should you be a model minority or assimilate? Be who you are,” she advised. “In the US, we’re one of the only countries where we have such a big mixture of ethnicities and races. Without equity, how are we going to showcase that?”
In the future, Hajimirsadeghi hopes to attain a PhD in Political Science, incorporating her love for poetry by writing about what she studies. In terms of her advice for budding teen artists of color, Hajimirsadeghi encourages them to be proactive and submit to literary magazines, as well as to seek out opportunities such as Adroit’s Summer Mentorship program. “Don’t give up hope with rejections,” the poet encouraged. “You can come from nothing and be the greatest storyteller if you take a chance.”
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