Jazz music lulled in the background as Redwood, Tam and Drake parents and students filed into the Little Theater for the annual Tri-School Poetry Slam on May 18. Viewers waited eagerly as the lights dimmed and the emcee stepped on stage in anticipation of a night filled with creative thinking and animated speech.
The eight students comprising the victorious Redwood slam poetry team won two out of the three rounds after an evening of soulful performances from all of the competitors. Redwood’s team is comprised of seniors Olivia Sinclair, Jason Seavey, Jake Baldwin, Stevie Becker and Julia Walter; juniors Stephanie Oh and Sabrina Dong; and sophomore Ali Janku.
Redwood secured the first round, which consisted of three individual poems from each school, with Oh, Janku and Becker collectively earning the highest average score from the three guest judges, pushing Redwood into an early lead. Drake swept the second round, which took the form of a triple round robin. In the third and final round, there was a unanimous vote for Redwood’s group poem, “Clichés,” which claimed the team’s seventh consecutive win of the Tri-School Poetry Slam.
Co-captain Seavey said that he was proud to see how much everyone on the team had progressed since the start of the year.
“I was more just nervous for how things would work out in the group poem, where all of us have to rely on each other. There’s a lot of trust involved. I was really excited to see how some of these youngins’ would pull it off,” Seavey said.
This year was the first time in his three years in the program that there were no memorization lapses onstage, Seavey said.
Sinclair also expressed her delight at the high level of intensity that the new poets demonstrated. She credits the team’s winning streak to its rigorous audition process.
“We have auditions, so we have a very selective process of choosing poets,” Sinclair said. “I remember the year I tried out, 30 people tried out. It’s a very small team. I think it automatically sets the bar very high, so progressively we really help each other. We are very harsh in critiquing our poems, so it helps a lot for growing.”
Sophomore Ali Janku performed a poem, “Patterns Throughout History,” raising the bar for years to come for the group, according to many of her fellow teammates.
Janku said it was an honor to have performed onstage with more experienced captains and friends.
“More so than being up there with [my teammates], it’s [amazing] also just working with them throughout the year and getting critiqued on your poetry and listening to their poetry for inspiration. ” Janku said.
Janku had previously performed onstage at the Mill Valley Slam Poetry Competition and auditioned for the Youth Speaks Competition, but said last week’s slam was exceptional.
“It’s the most incredible feeling when you’re up there,” Janku said. “Because you are not thinking about anything, you’re just so there, and your mouth has gone through the motion so many times that they can just roll off your tongue. It’s the best form of expression.”
Senior Stevie Becker performed his poem, “Protagonist” in the second round of the contest. He said he thought the team took preparing for the competition very seriously, meeting often and putting lots of work into rehearsing poems.
“[I] basically had to be the best we are going to be right now. I think we are leaving Slam in good hands, and I have a lot of faith in the younger members,” Becker said.
Although she did not present an individual poem at the competition, senior Julia Walter said that having her first and last year doing slam be combined into one experience made it all the more worthwhile for her.
“It was kind of intimidating, especially because all the captains are seniors and they’ve been doing it for three years, and so there’s kind of a standard they set. It was such a rush and it was so exciting, and it could not have gone more perfectly,” Walter said.
“Meandering,” by Stephanie Oh
“Patterns Through History,” by Ali Janku
“Protagonist,” by Stevie Becker
“What We Are Ode,” by Jason Seavey
“Bad Words,” by Sabrina Dong
“Kitty Pools,” by Olivia Sinclair
“Cliches,” by the Redwood slam poetry team