Teenagers may squirm when learning about poetry in a classroom but when poetry lives, breathes, and dances, they get with it. Certainly that was the case at Santa Monica High School’s first annual Poetry Slam event on February 10.
Organized by the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation, which raises funds for arts, athletics, and academic needs, the “Slam” wasn’t really a poetry performance contest, but rather an open mike reading and performance by a teen poetry troupe.
First up were the GetLit Players, a performance group of teenagers who recite poetry classics as well as their own work. GetLit was founded in 2005 at a South Central LA high school by teacher Diane Luby Lane.
Led by artistic director Azure Antoinette, five GetLit kids held forth with by-heart and from-the-heart performances of originals, classics by T.S. Eliot and American Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, solos, and group recitals. Antoinette did a piece of her own and frequently exchanged humorous quips with the audience (this woman should be hosting a TV show).
GetLit’s highlights included Ryan, whose imagery included such lines as “I rise to the orbit of eccentricity” and “I don’t want to be an astronaut/I want to be the space that he explores; “ Briana, who recited “Convenience Store,” by slam poet Buddy Wakefield; and Monique, who added her contemporary “response” to Pinsky’s “The Shirt,” a poem about the 1911 Triangle Factory tragedy.
The cheering full house of (mostly) teens might have overwhelmed the average academic-type poet, but California Poet Laureate Carol Muske-Dukes, who appeared next, was “down with the posse.” She read one humorous poem about a parrot who could quote famous lines of poetry. Muske-Dukes even did the parrot’s squawky voice. She also gave a pitch for her joint project with GetLit and the state of California, the “Magic Poetry Bus,” a web site and handbook for teaching poetry that will be distributed free in all California schools.
When it was time for the “Slam,” host Joe Hernandez-Kolski, who runs the bi-weekly poetry night for teens, “Downbeat 720” at Miles Playhouse on alternate Tuesdays, kicked things off with a wildly rhyming rap number.
Eliza, who said she had never performed before, acquitted herself with a poem about her generation facing world problems: “Raise the bar high-we will only knock it down!” Two teachers recited Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago” in tandem. Manny Bravo gave the crowd “Family Album,” a hip ode to his family. Taylor Johnson, Scott Tanaki, and Tate Tucker recited poems about their racial/ethnic identities. Ian Sandbloom, from Malibu High, mesmerized the audience with a poetic monologue called “I’m Sorry.” A penultimate delight was Manny, Tate, and Ryan from GetLit taking turns with some “freestyling.”
Manny, a 17-year old Samohi senior, told the Mirror he has been doing poetry and rap since elementary school. “It’s like an outlet for me-it’s a language for me,” he said. “I love it.”
Had it been a real slam, all of the poets would have taken home prizes. The words and the voices were exceptional. And the audience loved it, too.
Mirror Contributing Writerlynne@smmirror.com