Ecker Hill students ‘slam’ poetry
May 9, 2007
It could be called freestyle word-slinging to a hip hop beat. Ecker Hill Seventh-grade students competed in slam-poetry, judged by their peers on what moved them most in a celebration of National Poetry Month in April.
Not all Ecker Hill students warmed to the idea of writing poetry. "I thought poetry was kind of ‘pansy,’ said finalists, Laura Slusser, who got into the competition, realizing slam poetry has an edge to it.
Slam poetry is said to have sprouted roots in the 1930s, maturing with beat poets of the 1950s. It later became intimate with the punk-rock era of the 1970s, involving crowd-poet interaction, sometimes with the crowd hurling objects at poets, and the poets hurling the objects back at the crowd.
But, many will agree, slam poetry grooved into its own with poet Marc Smith performing at the "Get Me High Lounge," in Chicago, beginning in 1984. Slam poetry has mellowed into a more civil expression, with audience members scoring points on no strict criteria, other than what resonated to them.
The genesis at Ecker Hill began with organization of the project, led by Seventh-grade English teacher Emily Sutherland, with all seventh-grade students writing slam poems for their English classes, in a project called "From page to stage." Students in the classes chose one poet per class. The final 14 slam poets were narrowed to five.
The audience was respectful of the finalists as they read their selections, each getting three minutes. Finalist Hunter Loomis recited his poem with an attitude coupled with bold gestures, getting into the slam spirit.
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"You would think it would become a popularity contest," said Sutherland. "But the students do pick the best poetry."
On May 3, more than 300 seventh-grade students filled the Ecker Hill Gymnasium to take in and rate five slam-poet finalists on a scale of one to 10. Park City cowboy poet Jeff Carson warmed up the audience with a limerick called, "My Hero, the Cowboy," lamenting on the lacking of honesty and integrity in today’s society. Ecker Hill seventh-grade teachers then took over the stage, with their slam rendition, recited to an occasional beat of a drum.
The five finalists included Patton Magee, Laura Slusser, Hunter Loomis, Tori Vangeison and Emma Johnson.
Patton Magee took first-place in the poetry slam. Tori Vangeison placed second, and Hunter Loomis placed third in the competition.
The 14 semi-finalists all had different approaches to their writing of slam poetry, which they discussed after the competition.
Ali Mitchell said she listened to music and sang out lyrical poetry. "I like to sing to my music, even with math," she said, as she launched into an impromptu tune of "four plus two equals six," adding, that that was just an example, and the math problems at Ecker Hill are a lot harder than that.
Andrew Method based his poetry on true stories, "something that happened to me, which I turned into abstract."
Rebecca Cunningham wrote about a little boy on his tricycle and his brother riding a bicycle, refining her poem with input from her parents and friends.
Finalist Emma Johnson had strong feelings about the negativity of gossip, recognizing the power of words, poetically expressed or otherwise. "What you say can hurt."