by Maria Siragusa, STAFF WRITER
23 March 2018
Spoken Word Poetry Club poses together the Louder than a Bomb competition. Photo courtesy of Tim Ochoa.
A young high school poet, not much different than you and I makes his way up a set of stairs to a broad stage. The immense bright stage lights shine around her and a smile forms upon her face. The first words out of her mouth are their name and school, followed by synchronized cheering from all corners of the crowd. But the words that erupt, dance, burst from her mouth next are a form of art: poetry. She pours her hearts and souls into this performance, enticing the crowd with stories of all types– stories of love and hate, friend and foe, life and death, and everything in between. When the final breath of her words has been releases, she grins from ear to ear yet again and catches her breath. Yells and shouts exit the mouths of every person in the audience. This is just a glimpse into the world of poetry slams.
Over the course of this month, OE’s Spoken Word Poetry Club has performed in a series of poetry slams in a competition known as, “Louder Than a Bomb.” This is the first year that East has participated in the event, as this is also the club’s first year running.
Senior Aidan Mueller has been part of the club from its start. According to Mueller, he always had a love for writing and listening to poetry. Performing it is now something that he enjoys more than he first thought he would.
“Getting up and talking into a microphone is something that might not be good for my health with how much I end up freaking myself out, but it is ultimately something I enjoy thoroughly,” Mueller said. “The nerves in your body want to melt and shake and explode, but if you can get the crowd bouncing along to your cadence you realize that you love being the person people watch on stage.”
The group initially began just writing their own poetry and trying to spread the word about the club. According to Mueller, Louder Than a Bomb has always been a goal for this group, but he was surprised by how quickly it came.
“[The club] was actually blindsided by how quickly Louder Than a Bomb came up. So much of our club’s time was spent making the club and getting members that we only really had maybe two to three weeks worth of preparation compared to the six months most other developed teams had gotten due to their established positions,” Mueller said.
Despite their limited time frame for preparation, Co-sponsor Timothy Ochoa said that this group of poets pumped out poetry under stressful conditions and at high stakes with ease.
“It was cool to see their creative process come to life because it’s something I haven’t really gotten to see before,” Ochoa said. “Usually you write a poem and work on it for a week or two but in this case it was only a few days that they had to write and memorize poems. It was great writing in a matter of a few days that was really well put together.”
Many of the teams that they were going to be going up against have been attending the event since its start in 2001, so the team knew that there was going to be extremely talented competition.
“I found that it is not all about winning, but making new connections and discovering new things. I really had an amazing time getting to know other students I’d never talked to before and listening to others poetry during the competition.”
— senior Anna Crusen
An explosion of poetry
The event started with a series of “bouts.” A bout is a mini-competition between schools that determines who will move up in the competition. In each bout, four teams compete in five rounds. The first four rounds consist of individual pieces, and the final round is dedicated to group pieces, where a few members of each team deliver a poem together.
The first bout was held at Columbia College in Chicago on February 24th. Senior Mariah Whittsey performed for the first time in front of a large audience at this bout. Her poems were about being black in America, which is an important topic to her that she was proud to perform.
“They were some of my most honest poems and I think they are relevant. I really wanted people to hear them because I feel like black girls don’t usually get center stage to tell stories,” Whittsey said. “I wanted to actually make the audience feel something or get a few people who have never heard that perspective to hear it.”
Poets are free to share poetry about whatever they want, so there is always diversity in what is heard at competitions. Senior Anna Crusen conveyed a piece very different from Whittsey’s. Her poem was about an ex-boyfriend and various aspects of their relationship.
“I find poetry inspiration from things I experience in life, usually emotional encounters and my surroundings. I enjoy writing about nature, so a lot of my writings come from what I see when I’m outside my house,” Crusen said.
Bout number two was held at the same location on March 1st. In this bout, the group came out even stronger, but did not place first due to the wave of a time penalty for another school’s poet. The poet should have lost a large amount of points for going over time, but everyone in attendance wanted the poet to finish her piece and not get a point reduction. Ochoa said that he was extremely proud of the way that the group reacted to this situation.
“The group was upset about the time penalty at first because they really thought that we were the better team,” Ochoa said. “But they really felt that the purpose of the event was to hear poetry and not worry about the points. I was very proud of them in that moment to not question the call and not to ask us to fight about it because we had every right to,” Ochoa said.
According to Ochoa, their act of kindness earned them some good karma and the team was able to advance into quarter finals despite their second place finish. They traveled back to Columbia College on March 7th to perform once more. The stakes were higher at this competition as they had to place first or second to move on.
Whittsey explained that there were a lot of nerves and fears that the group had to overcome to get to this point in the competition.
“[A struggle for the group] is not being sure if a piece is good enough for competition. Most of the group had also never performed before, including me, so stage fright was an obstacle we had to overcome,” Whittsey said. “We also had to remember to be emotional while being on stage instead of just reading a poem.”
Although the group shared their best pieces on stage and put everything they had into their performances, they ended up placing third– only 3.6 points behind second place. This loss still earned them the position of Top 30 in the entire state.
“It wasn’t a situation where we were the better team and we just blew it on stage or choked,” Ochoa said. “But everyone still performed great. At the end of the day they could look at themselves in the mirror and know that the two teams that advanced were better than us.”
Because the club is currently composed entirely of seniors, it is being left in a bit of an uncertain position for next year. Co-sponsor Michele King hopes that the school can become more involved in Louder Than a Bomb programs and continue exposing students to the world of poetry through things like writing workshops and guest speakers.
“I think it is important for students to have a creative outlet and a safe place for their voices to be heard. Words are powerful and everyone’s story matters,” King said.
Crusen is hopeful that young poets will be inspired to share their work after seeing what the club did this year and will want to be part of a fun environment where they can write and their perform poetry.
“I found that it is not all about winning, but making new connections and discovering new things,” Crusen said. “I really had an amazing time getting to know other students I’d never talked to before and listening to others poetry during the competition.”
Spoken Word Poetry Club will continue to meet every Tuesday in English teacher Erin Sudberry’s room (J221).
Maria Siragusa is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the HOWL