Students performed spoken word poems at our first annual Slam Poetry Coffee House in Celebration of Seb Jones ‘13 on Saturday, February 22. For a number of years, our English teachers have been working with students in grades 9 and 10 on spoken word poems. When spoken word poems are presented in front of an audience in front of a panel of judges, it is called a Poetry Slam. As an oral text, the performance aspect of this genre is distinct from others that we study, which makes it a crucial part of the learning experience and a wonderful tool to develop verbal and non-verbal language skills. It requires courage, builds confidence and challenges students to find their voice and express it in an authentic way - with a live performance in front of an audience.
At the Grade 10 level, our teachers have crafted a "Finding Our Voice" unit anchored in Trevor Noah's memoir, Born A Crime. Students discover how the experience of spoken word poetry within South Africa (Noah's birthplace), has a distinct cultural meaning. It is often a call to action. It is politicized. Even the most marginalized can find their voice and be heard through this medium. Noah’s text opens up the doors to our own students to have important conversations, to create and perform spoken word poems that celebrate the diversity of experience that they bring as individuals. It helps our students to break through assumptions, to share highly individualized perceptions, and it is infused with a range of non-verbal and verbal strategies to engage the audience. A Slam Poetry experience embraces and heightens our diverse community and helps our students to become better communicators.
As a genre dominated by the voices of youth around the world, a group who can often feel isolated and disconnected, spoken word poems and a slam poetry experience is one sure way to build connection. It is authentic. It’s hard to fake. Words and images come alive during the performance. A healthy competition, with great gift prizes, also helps to ignite our teenagers to take a chance and share their perceptions of their world and themselves.
Reflections on Slam Poetry
By Sarah Jiang ’22
I believe that poetry is such an extremely powerful form of communication especially for youth in this day and age. In our everyday lives, we go through a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences that sometimes are hard to process ourselves. Ms. Brown’s approach at allowing students to dive into poetry writing was more than effective; it opened up my feelings that I didn’t even know were there. The Grade 10s were challenged to take 20 minutes of continuous writing to create the base of our poem without putting your pen down for a second. This didn’t allow me to censor myself when writing and I easily wrote about the things that mattered most to me. I wrote about the conflicts that I face internally versus how I act externally and deal with the pressures of the world surrounding me. The books that we have been reading in class so far such as The Namesake and Born A Crime tie into the unit; “Finding Our Voice” seamlessly. Since I am Chinese Canadian, I found The Namesake a very inspiring story to help me open up about my cultural struggles. Not only did I relate to the story but, it gave me more confidence to share a little bit about it in both my poem “Foreigner” and in our Harkness discussions.
As I prepared for the Seb Jones Poetry Slam competition, my friends helped me recite my lines and gave me constructive feedback. My friends, family and teachers were huge motivators and supporters as I pushed myself out of my comfort zone to present such a personal poem in the competition.
I continue to feel the impact of everyone’s words that night. Whether the poem was a playful ode to tacos or even a confession of love, each poet bravely presented about something that was important to them. Seeing familiar faces express their passions was very inspiring! It also helped to calm my nerves as I saw other nervous souls, like myself, presenting in front of a much bigger crowd than anticipated. Originally, I expected to perform in front of a crowd no larger than 40 but was extremely thrown off when I saw over 140 faces of friends, teachers, alumn, heads of house, Seb Jones’ family and friends, and even a professional slam poet! While this frightened me, it also motivated me to present my poem to the best of my ability. Congratulations to all the brave individuals that came out this past February 22! In my eyes, we are all winners and I cannot wait for next year's Slam Poetry Coffee House.