There are countless ways for Sailors to pass time while on a ship for months on end. Some learn a new language or how to play an instrument, some prefer video games or movies and one Sailor aboard USS Princeton (CG 59) finds – and shares – comfort through poetry.
Lt. j.g. Cleopatra Haynes, from Jacksonville, Fla., the disbursing officer on board the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser, writes poetry to help relieve the stresses of being on deployment.
“Writing can be so therapeutic,” Haynes said. “It has always been a love of mine. I've been writing poems since I was in the third grade. Sometimes you don't realize how much of a load you're carrying until you put it on paper. Once it's written down your shoulders feel lighter. That's invaluable on this deployment.”
Not only does Haynes write her own poems, she also organizes, hosts and performs poetry slams on the ship. First organized in Chicago in 1984, a poetry slam is an event where poets perform spoken poetry in front of a live audience and a panel of judges.
“This form of performance widely drew in women and poets of color that felt excluded from traditional channels,” Haynes said.
Even with the high tempo of deployment, these slams help Haynes set aside time to write.
“Studying for my [Surface Warfare Officer] pin doesn’t leave a ton of time to write,” she said. “Having a poetry slam each month forces me to make time to write. It forces me to confront my feelings and to open up to other people.”
Before deployment, Haynes had frequented competitions in both her hometown and in San Diego, where Princeton is homeported, though she only ever competed once. Even though she gets nervous when she goes up in front of a crowd, she doesn’t let her nerves stop her.
“I'm naturally a very shy person and sharing my thoughts has always been a bit intimidating,” said Haynes. “My parents and pastor used to make me get in front of the congregation at church and read my poems. It was meant to give me confidence and share the message they felt God gave me. I was always super scared. My voice would tremble uncontrollably until I finally finished. Over the years I've gotten more comfortable. My voice doesn't shake, but during really vulnerable pieces you can see my foot shaking if you pay attention.”
As much as she enjoys writing and performing, what makes her even happier is to see others go up in front of everyone and perform their own poems and open up to those they see and work with every day.
“Just as it is encouraging for me to go up and read my poems, it is just as enlightening to see and hear from the rest of the crew just what pains and grievances we all go through and to be able to relate on a personal level…[it]makes it easier to open up and truly be a family on board Princeton,” said Electronics Technician 3rd Class Darius Swan, of Gilbert, Ariz.
“It makes me so happy to see people just show up. I love when we support and encourage each other,” Haynes said. “When Sailors participate it blows my mind. Especially when the pieces are obviously genuine and vulnerable. I'm in my thirties and I'm just getting comfortable enough to really express the way I feel about things. I didn't have the courage they have. It really fills me with pride and I respect them so much more.”
“The poetry slams have had a way in my relationships onboard, strengthened older ones, and fostered new ones into being,” said Swan. “As always, I cannot wait until the next one.”
Princeton is part of Nimitz Carrier Strike Group and is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean and Pacific through the Western Indian Ocean and three critical chokepoints to the free flow of global commerce.