Student poetry slam returns
February 11, 2016
Students throughout the valley are discovering the power of the spoken word with a series of workshops and assemblies culminating in a poetry slam at the Third Street Center in Carbondale on Friday.
"My job as a poet is not just to create verse, but it's also to create more room for verse in the world around us," said poet Logan Phillips who, along fellow Arizona teaching artist Myrlin Hepworth and Albuquerque poet Mercedez Holtry, has been integral to Aspen Words' ongoing effort to encourage poetry in the schools.
The slam itself, now in its first iteration, has become an anticipated community event, but it's far from the only opportunity for students to perform.
In an assembly at Glenwood Springs Middle School Monday morning, the trio brought several high-schoolers to help spread the word.
It was particularly poignant for Glenwood Springs High School sophomore Erica Massender, who saw a similar performance on the same stage several years ago.
"I liked art but there was always someone better. Then I saw Logan and I got inspired," she said. She eventually took first in a poetry slam, started performing more often, and even got a poem published.
"Anyone can start poetry at any time they want," she said. "It doesn't matter as long as they're inspired."
Roaring Fork High School junior Julia Lee got her start in freshman English.
"I had to get a poetry journal for class, and I just kept at it," she said.
The poem she performed Monday dealt with the often frustrating questions young people get about their future.
"Sometimes I feel like things call for a different response than is generally accepted," she said.
Those are exactly the sort of things Hepworth, who served as MC for Monday's assembly, is trying to help kids express.
"I think poetry, when used properly, provides a platform for people to view their own humanity," he said. "You create a safe space and a cohesive unit. If they feel like they're not alone, they feel supported. If you can get a kid to get up on stage and read something from their heart, you witness this new strength that's born in them. They're taking ownership for who they are. When it comes to the board room, the job interview, the classroom — all these other spaces — they're that much more comfortable feeling comfortable and performing well."
Getting them there starts with battling preconceptions.
"The vast majority of kids often have a negative idea of what poetry is," Hepworth said. "I think that my job is to bridge the gap between Yeats and Tupac. When I study poetry, I study it in all locations, not just the one that the academic world promotes."
"There's poetry in film. There's poetry in the way my grandmother works in the garden. There's poetry in collecting stamps," he added. "Poetry comes from a greek word for 'to make.' With that definition, everyone's a poet."
The poetry slam is open to the public and runs from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Feb. 12.
When the slam is over, local high-schoolers can still get involved in the Roaring Fork Valley's first Youth Poetry Slam team, FirstWord, which meets every Monday at Steve's Guitars in Carbondale.