Student poetry takes center stage during East’s 4th annual Poetry Day

Monday, March 9th marked East’s 4th annual Poetry day hosted by Student Council. Music filled the PAC as students listened to guest speakers, wrote and work shopped poetry, and had an open mic opportunity to share their work. 

105 students attended the event for varying reasons. Many students, including senior Angelica De La Cruz, said they are in a creative writing class and really enjoy that. 

“It was recommended to me by one of the teachers because she said it would be like creative writing, which I really enjoy,” De La Cruz said. “I wasn’t a big poetry fan before this, but listening to it from other people is actually really fun and interesting.” 

To start off the day DJ Cash Era, or Casera Heining, played music and introduced Tim Stafford, who took the stage next, a poet, storyteller, and educator from Lyons, IL. His work can be found in a number of anthologies and the HBO series Def Poetry Jam, and he performs regularly at festivals throughout the US and Europe.  

“I remember my first ever poem was really bad, it was not even funny, it was ‘Poetry is stupid, poetry is dumb, I’d rather be sitting here twiddling my thumbs,’” Stafford said to the croud. “Here I am a little later in life and I’ve realized poetry in fact isn’t dumb and I’ve learned a lot of ways to improve my poems past that point.” 

Poet Adam Gottlieb joined the stage next, singing, playing guitar, and sharing a few of his own poems and stories with the crowd. Gottlieb is known for his part in the movie Louder than a Bomb, and writes now primarily through songs. 

After spending the morning listening to the professionals talk, students got the opportunity to write, workshop, and share some of their own poetry with the group. Senior Kwesi Caldwell said he was glad that he got to spend the day just focusing and learning about poetry, uninterrupted by his other classes. 

Senior Ana Sophia Ocon shares her poem on the PAC stage at open mic. “I am in creative writing right now with Ochoa and he was recommending it so I decided I’d like to come because I’ve been liking the poems we’ve been doing in creative writing and it’s been really fun,” Ocon said. Photo by Allison McDowell.

“I think it was really helpful and I can use what I learned today in my classes in the future,” Caldwell said. 

Poetry Day itself was created by English teachers Stephanie Scapino and Tim Ochoa, four years ago in hope to help bring poetry to the students in the suburbs. The teachers wanted to give students at East the opportunity to experience poetry and learn more about it. 

“We wanted to bring Louder than a Bomb, which is the world’s largest youth poetry festival, to the suburbs,” Ochoa said. “We were going to Chicago for open mics and writing workshops. We tried to create a culture of writing and poetry for the suburbs, and for our students to be able to access.”

Poetry plays a role in Mr. Ochoa’s own life as well. He said he has been involved in poetry since college when he got to experience his first open mic and poetry slam in Chicago. 

“I have hosted open mics, couched the Louder than a Bomb team, I’ve been published, written poetry, I’ve performed at workshops, I’m part of a group called TWAP, Teens Writers and Activists Project, and it’s to help students in the suburbs find their voice through poetry,” Ochoa said. “I also teach it extensively in creative writing and english two and I wrote the curriculum for our spoken word class that will run next year at East.”

Many of the students who attended Poetry Day said they signed up because they were creative writing. Senior Kimberly Carrasco said being in the class made her fall even more in love with poetry, even though she had been writing her whole life.

“We wanted to bring Louder than a Bomb, which is the world’s largest youth poetry festival, to the suburbs. We were going to Chicago for open mics and writing workshops and we tried to create a culture of writing and poetry for the suburbs and for our students to be able to access this.”

— English teacher Timothy Ochoa

“I love writing poetry because I can actually express myself and my feelings. It’s a great way to just think outside of the box,” Carrasco said. 

East now has a Louder than a Bomb team that practices poetry and attends poetry events like Louder than a Bomb. Senior Ty Garcia is a member of that team and uses poetry as a form of self expression. 

“I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember and poetry is how I let my true feelings and thoughts out without people hearing it really,” Garcia said. “There is a lot of power in words so if I can impact just one person with my words, or someone can relate in some way, or there’s something I can say that needs to be put out there, or I can speak my own truth, there’s power to that.”

Allison McDowell is a Co-News Editor for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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