Slam! Jaws dropped to the floor as Long-View poets took the mic, spouting repetitions, alliteration, and onomatopoeia. Delivering wisdom on topics ranging from anger to siblings to politics, Grey Band poets stunned the audience and judges of Long-View’s first poetry slam with their deep reflections, carefully-selected words, and well-honed performances. The slam took place this week at Caffe Medici’s performance space, and the inaugural event was a great success.
Ten poets competed, performing original work they’ve been developing over the past five weeks. As is typical of poetry slams, a sacrificial first poet, whom the judges scored in order to calibrate their judging, was brought forward by the host (i.e. Ms. Lyon). Lue assumed the role and beautifully performed her original poem entitled, "Curiosity." And as is also typical, the poetry slam began with a first round involving all poets, and the judges' scores consequently whittled the poets down to a final three in the 3rd round. Audience participation and the coffee-house atmosphere lent a feeling of authenticity that elevated this culmination of weeks of hard work and thoughtful writing.
Weeks ago, the poetry unit began with one rule: take risks. Our poets certainly did take risks, searching their world for scenes and moments bursting with poetry, and picking the perfect words to express them. A crack in the paint, a tense game of chess, a letter you wish you could write--poems can come from anywhere. Together, we explored works by poets young and old, poems on paper, poems read aloud, and footage of poems spat into microphones to hushed audiences waiting on every word. As a mentor text, we turned to Courtney Kiolbassa’s slam poem “Keys,” about a girl who loses confidence in her voice after being told that girls shouldn’t talk so much. We fell head over heels for Kiolbassa’s extended metaphor of voices as keys and her haunting use of repetition and sticky alliterative syllables.
As our writers discovered that the world of poetry includes more than blue skies, flowery meadows, and sing-song end rhymes, their work exploded into a carnival of complicated feelings, haunting images, and words that twirl off the tongue like tilt-a-whirls. Anger became a trash compactor, a fire-eyed demon, and a murderous chef at a chopping block. Hopelessness became a dry lake bed, littered with skeletal animal remains, lost fishing poles, and salty tears that sizzle in the sun.
Most incredibly, a compulsive end-rhymer became a master of alliteration and internal rhyme. A purported poetry-hater became a fiery commentator on current events. A soft-voiced self-doubter became a third-place slam winner. Grey Band became a community of performers, supporting each other through the vulnerable stages of sharing new work, attempting memorization, and learning to speak loudly without hiding behind goofiness, mumbling, or rushed words.
At the end of the slam, the owner of Caffe Medici bestowed our first-place winner with a Medici t-shirt and invited us back for next year’s slam. The three judges (two authors and a UT student) stayed late to marvel at the confidence, wise words, and moving performances they had witnessed. As the teachers began discussing plans for next year, the poets sipped hot chocolate and congratulated each other on their powerful words and risks well-taken.