Students Thrive Through the Spoken Word

Rachael Schafer, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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Six years ago, Dr. Steve Haslam started the Slam Poetry program at Copper Hills, and from that time, the program has only grown. On May 3rd, Copper Hills put on a workshop attended by three world-renowned poets: Bill Moran, Franny Choi, and Hanif Abdurraqib. Each of these poets had something different to offer up to the students and each brought their different personality to the stage with their words and lessons taught. Their goal was to foster a love of poetry and help students improve their writing.

The workshop started early on Friday and went the entire school day. Students and poets alike felt the effects of each hour. Bill Moran came to the stage and was honest with the students. He explained that sometimes it was okay to be tired and that poetry needed to capture the living experience of a subject, no matter the circumstances. Through this, he taught students the power of stories within a poem, not only the conflict surrounding us but the conflict IN us. He said, “It is up to us to rewrite ourselves.” The power to change falls into our hands and we can only do that as we realize who we are and how we can change.

The next workshop was with Franny Choi. She began by reading a snippet from a book, “Introduction to Quantum Theory.” The idea of the book was not asking questions but asking better questions in both poetry and reality. She then asked the students to write down three different things: a childhood memory, a person that they wanted to talk to, and a question that they had been contemplating for a while.

From that list, she had the students select a section and write three questions relating to that section, and then toss out those questions and search for deeper, more meaningful questions to ask. Her exercise taught that while people ask questions every day, they need to be asking better questions, searching beyond what they know, beyond their own comfort zone. Which, if  we look enough, is one thing that poetry asks of us, to search and find what is beyond. Each of us are searching for something, and oftentimes we don’t find it, even if it is staring us right in the face. Poetry, and writing in general can offer us answers that we might have not even found before.

The last poet to grace the stage was Hanif Abdurraquib. He began writing poetry in 2012 and was trained in music. His lesson focused on lyric reconstruction from song to poetry. He explained this process by saying, “We live in a world where the poem has already written itself.” Whether it is realized, each of us have the potential and ability to write. We each have something to tell the world, whether it is through music, or in this case, poetry. In his workshop he taught the power of music and the written word hand-in-hand.

For this section he had students pick a song they were familiar with and analyze it, interpreting what the song was about and then what the song is telling the listener. With both of these, he challenged each of the students to write a 14-line poem based upon these two things. Following his challenge, he allowed for a few students to come and share the poems that they had written.

While each artist brought a different element to the stage, they accomplished the same thing. Human connection. Every day we are making different connections, and in poetry, we are able to experience those raw and real emotions and connections in creating and sharing poetry. Franny Choi said something similar saying, “The thing that really drew me to [slam poetry] was the connections that I could make with other people.”  

The Slam program at Copper Hills has continuously grown, and has spread throughout the state like wildfire. And on May 3rd, eight different schools competed for the opportunity to take the Championship. At the end of the day, our very own Copper Hills Poetry Slam team came out on top.