Saturday, April 26, 2014

High School Poetry Slam

On April 1st, we held our first annual poetry slam here at Nanjing Senior High School. Participating were 35 students from three grade levels--all of our American Program Chinese students, plus our visiting German students. After a month of preparation, the evening event was held in the lecture hall, to great success. Cash prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place were given, along with four honorable mentions, and the slam was even filmed. Fellow teachers, Simeon Campbell and Katherine Marie Priddy also helped organize and run the event, for which I am very grateful, and some of our other teachers, Gerry, Reuben, Ollie, and Lillian were our volunteer judges.

Since many of our Chinese students hadn't had much exposure to poetry slams, or to poetry, for that matter, the entire month before the event was spent studying poems. Though my junior AP English class had been reading a few poems, here and there, since the beginning of the school year, mostly as supplementary material to other literature, and had even read Shakespeare, we really needed to delve into mechanics and modern style. I also did a poetry unit review with my senior AP English class. This involved the reading and study of many poems, lessons in figurative language, short poetry videos and PPTs, writing workshops, outdoor writing exercises, and the poetry slam documentary, Louder Than A Bomb, which the students greatly enjoyed. Students wrote their own poems, workshopped them with their peers, revised them, workshopped them with me, and revised them again. We discussed the performance aspect of a poetry slam, and students practiced their poems aloud, both at home and in front of their peers, even doing a rehearsal run in the lecture hall the afternoon before the slam. Though they were all nervous about the slam that evening, they did well. And they had created some wonderful poems!

Here are some photos:

Cool poetry slam posters, designed by fellow teacher, Kate

Poetry slam judges: Gerry, Reuben, Ollie, and Lillian

Poetry slam in full swing

Winners, from left to right: Jasmine (HM); Claire (HM); Andy (HM);
Tom (HM); Shimmer (3rd); Chen (2nd); Andrew (1st)

Andrew won first place with his poem, "Pretentious Pimples", a piece that was not only brave, but cleverly structured as a conversation with his acne, and had a strong delivery. Chen won second place with "Homeless Dog", a persona piece, and Shimmer took third place with the confessional poem, "Her". All students, whether winners, honorable mentions, or not, did a fantastic job with their poems, and showed a lot of courage in reading their work in front of an audience--a first, for many. This helped build confidence, as many of the students expressed afterward.

All in all, our poetry slam was not only fun, but made a deep impression on the students. As one said, "Writing a poem is not as easy as I used to think. I had to modify the lines again and again, and read them aloud to seek the best voice to express them. It is funny--I earned award money in the poetry slam. It was the first time I earned money through my own effort". Another student said, "After this poetry slam, it seems that everything in life can be the subjects of poems. The matter is, what do I pay attention to? I have started observing life more clearly and carefully, and I've found a lot of beauty which I never paid attention to before."

As a teacher, I can't ask for more than that...

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