“Your mouth is always getting you in trouble, they say. Watch the attitude…” This is how Issa Rosario begins one of her autobiographical poems. At only 14 years old, she possesses a remarkable amount of self-awareness. A freshman at J.P. McCaskey High School, Issa uses spoken-word poetry as therapy, an outlet for expressing her inner thoughts and feelings. What began as an after-school activity has blossomed into a full-blown passion for the performing arts.
“I went to Lincoln Middle School, and we had to learn poetry and recite it. We were forced to,” she laughs, “and I had a small voice. I was never the type to stand up in front of an audience.” However, when her seventh grade teacher asked the class to write their first poem, Issa found herself hooked. “We had to perform in front of the class. I was nervous… but I liked the rush, you know?” She continues, “I liked the adrenaline.”
With her interest piqued, Issa met with Ty Gant, coordinator of the “We Rock the Mic” spoken-word poetry program for youth. Ty became Issa’s poetry coach, helping her form a team from Lincoln to compete in The Mix’s Youth Poetry Grand Slam. They didn’t win, but the experience left Issa craving more opportunities to express herself. “The first time I competed, my little 13-year-old self, I didn’t know what to do,” she muses. “I’d never been in a poetry slam before, but everybody was so supportive.” The support from her fellow poets helped give Issa the confidence and inspiration to dig deeper into her emotions for themes and ideas for her poems.
“At first, I was really cautious because I didn’t want to offend anybody,” she explains. “I tried to be really nice. I didn’t want stuff getting out there that would be disrespectful or offensive.” She continues, “But then I realized I didn’t want to hold back. I’ve changed, and if I have something I want to say, I’ll say it. I don’t really care.” While at times her poems are positive, Issa frequently writes about personal struggles and issues, including family dynamics, bullying, and police brutality. While she sometimes gets nervous about offending someone with the content of her poetry, the therapeutic effect of releasing her emotions through her words outweighs any negativity she might receive.
“I’m very dramatic. Whenever something bad happens, I write about it. And when I speak it out, yell about it… I feel so much better after. I feel relieved, you know? I don’t feel so much pressure anymore,” she says.
Since her first poetry slam at Lincoln, Issa has performed her poetry all over Lancaster County at open mic nights and competitions, including the Fulton Theater, The Ware Center, and Fruition Collective. She has also taken an interest in acting, having participated in Millersville University’s M-Uth Theater performance of The Song of Freedom, a play about desegregation in the 1960s. She credits the program with improving not only her technical skills, such as diction and projection, but also with improving her mindset: “I played a black woman, but I’m Puerto Rican. M-Uth Theater taught me about diversity—it’s not about what color you are, how much you’ve been through. It’s about your talent and how you can present yourself and how you can turn yourself into a different person by acting.”
Issa plans to keep expressing herself through poetry and acting long into the future—perhaps even as a career—and she hopes to inspire others to do the same. “I used to be quiet,” she says, “but now I’m pretty loud. I can say I was a little caterpillar, but now I’m like a butterfly.”