At Barnstable High They’re Poetry Slammin

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Kaitlyn Holzworth performs her poem at the Barnstable High poetry slam. (Photo by Kaitrin Acuna)

As winter dwindles and spring approaches, at Barnstable High School it’s poetry slam time!
For the uninitiated, poetry slam is the competitive art of performance poetry and at BHS every grade is required to participate in the literary showdown.
As someone who has done poetry slam every year of high school, I can attest to the fact that it is rather nerve wracking. It is not easy to stand in front of an audience of about 300 of your peers and perform a poem about something you are passionate about.

“Honestly, I was at about a 10 as far as nerves go leading up to it,” Cassie Label, a senior at BHS and poetry slam competitor says. “It helped that once I was there, I sort of saw other people that were feeling the same as me. By the time I went on stage and I heard the people in the audience, like my friends cheering for me, it was probably more of a 6.”
Poetry slam starts in the classroom where teachers typically introduce what they call “the poetry unit.” In these classes teachers and students talk about different types of poetry, the structure of poetry, and how to recite poetry aloud. Famous poets are introduced and students and watch videos to get a feel of what they should look and sound like when performing their poem.
To make the task of writing poetry that is meant to be deep and meaningful a little less scary, most teachers assign a topic or writing style. For example, my teacher last year, Ms.Oberg, had us write a poetry portfolio which was essentially a binder’s worth of poems. Some were on assigned topics while others were students’ choice.KA_Poetry Slam_Barnstable High school_hyannis_winter_022916_018
Most students wrote in free verse, others did Haikus, and some even did sonnets. By assigning topics or styles it makes the task of performing in front of everyone a lot less scary, knowing that everyone had to write a poem similar to yours. After we all finished our binders ,Mrs. O had us each pick a poem to perform in front of the class. After everyone had performed, we’d vote for who we thought should be the classroom winner, taking into account not only the content of their poem, but also their presentation. The two people with the most votes would go on to the school-wide competition.
The school wide competition is almost always filled with free-verse poetry on topics ranging from young love, unrequited love, the stress of school, depression, or politics. A few jokesters write poems about how much they hate poetry slam. The school-wide poetry slam usually takes place about a week after every class finishes their classroom poetry slam and picks their classroom winners. The judges are usually local poets or school librarians.
Cassie Label said that despite her nerves she would definitely recommend doing poetry slam to other students.
“Once it’s over you feel so proud of yourself,” she said. “It feels good to conquer something that you’re afraid of. When you hear people cheer for a line you wrote it feels really good to know that whatever you just said connected with someone in the audience. It’s just a great overall experience.”
– By Kaitlyn Holzworth

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