I spent most of Thursday, and part of today (Friday) judging the Poetry Slam at West Jordan High School, and I have to say – WOW! Talk about some talented poets. More than once I was blown away by the depth, the artistic quality, the vulnerability, and the true guts of the students who took such a risk as is required by participating in an event like this. Every one of those kids (students, young adults) deserved a reward for being willing to take a piece of themselves, write about it in a meaningful way, and then stand in front of a crowd and read their work, and then be judged by adults they didn’t know.
And it was a brutal job to be a judge, I can assure you. There were nearly 200 participants overall, and from them, only 24 were chosen for the finals. That was a difficult enough challenge. Then those amazing 24 had to be narrowed down to just 6 – a first, second, and third place winner, along with three honorable mentions. It broke my heart to have to limit the choices to so few. All six were worthy of first place, in fact, darn near all 24 of the finalists were that good.
A quick shout out to a few of those who really touched me: Zach – dude, you are one talented individual, and having heard just a bit of your personal story I am here to tell you that you will be an amazing man no matter what you choose to do in your life. Katie “#1 Dad” – your sharp-edged wit is like the wand in the hand of the sorcerer’s apprentice; at some point you will want to risk using it the wrong way, but for now – thanks for the laugh! Mike H. – You were a favorite with all the judges, so don’t let the fact you didn’t win bother you. It’s clear your grasp of free form poetry is advanced beyond your years, as is your depth of emotion. Rob – that voice is mesmerizing. I’d pay good money to listen to you read the phone book.
The quality of the works I heard compares quite favorably with a lot of the poets I teach in Literature. In fact, in many cases I’d say it was superior (I’m not a big Robert Frost fan). If you’ve ever read “War Is Kind” by Stephen Crane, you should hear “Marine Lt. Smith” for the updated version. If you know Emily Dickinson’s “I Felt a Funeral in My Brain” then you’d understand the 2008 rendering in “The Darkness” or “Blank.” And not once, thank God, did any of these poets use the word “cloying” or feel a need to go purple in their prose. Each one of them came from the heart – even if it was the part that felt a need to be funny. “Cereal” is going to be one of my favorites for a while to come, as is “The Fox Jumped Over the Box.”
I have no doubt that some of these kids will become writers of some sort. And Amy Lavin, the genius teacher whose time, dedication, and commitment has made this happen for the past few years should be given some sort of award by the government for what she’s done. Poetry is cool at WJHS, and not just for your typical “poetry” kind of crowd. The kids I saw on stage, reading pieces of their hearts in the spotlight came from every representative high school group. It seriously made me proud to be a part of the event, and I hope I’m extended the honor of participating in the future. For now, I just appreciate the opportunity to rekindle my enthusiasm for poetry, and the inspiration of spending time with people I admire. Not that my enthusiasm has been waning recently, but boy did these artists provide me with a burst of creative energy. I’m trying to bottle it up and keep some in reserve for those times when I have to deal with the tougher times.
I hope I get to see you again next year – and keep up the writing, WJHS!