Redwood students place first and second at poetry slam

Matthew Ross

Approximately 270 community members packed into the Mill Valley Public Library on March 7 to watch ten Marin high school students perform their poems in the library’s third annual Poetry Slam.

Four Redwood students participated in the competition, two of whom qualified for the second and final round. Senior Matt Cummings, one of the students who qualified, placed first out of ten participants, earning himself the top prize, an iPad mini. Sophomore Olivia Sinclair followed close behind with a second place finish.

Cummings particularly stood out because of his unique rhyming style. His rhyme scheme was very consistent and predictable, which made for an engaging pattern.

“Most of my poetry is in that style. It makes it more fun to write and perform, and it also gives you a guiding structure to the poem,” Cummings said.

Cummings says his poem-writing arises from thoughts gathered over time which he scribbles down if he feels they are useful for a poem, whereas others tend to write about specific events.

Hosted by the library as a part of its “First Fridays” program, the event is not a team competition – students who choose to participate in this slam do so individually. Five students from Tam and one from the Lycée Français de San Francisco joined the four Redwood students in the slam.

Emcee Chinaka Hodge, a prestigious poet, educator, playwright, and screenwriter, added to the lively atmosphere with her own post-competition poem. Hodge’s writing has appeared on PBS, CNN, NPR, and in Newsweek magazine. Judges Lalé Shafaghi, Siwatu Wright, and Susan Zerner also came from a background in poetry, writing, and performance.

Each of the ten students presented their original three-minute long poems for the first round. The three judges held up their scores (on a 1-10 scale) after each poet’s presentation. The three scores were averaged, and the students with the top three average scores qualified for the second round.

Sophomore Jake Baldwin and senior Rayna Saron were given impressive first round scores by the three judges, but they did not qualify for the second round.

The top three scores in the first round belonged to Matt Cummings, Olivia Sinclair, and Emma Weinswig of Tam.

In recent years, Redwood’s slam poetry team has only formally participated in the Tam district slam between Drake, Tam, and Redwood. That being said, team members constantly write poems, which they often share with the other members. For most of the slams, they choose to share a poem that they have written in the past – poems are not necessarily written for the purpose of an upcoming competition.

Senior team captain Rayna Saron said that she tries to steer the team away from presenting poems that are gloomy and have a negative perspective. In an effort to stand out from the rest, Saron encourages her teammates to present more positive poems.

“I try to keep a variety, and I think that’s the hard part,” she said.

Sinclair stressed the fact that presentation is a very important part of the poem.

“You really want to captivate the audience and grab their attention,” she said.

The process of modifying and presenting a poem is very difficult, according to Baldwin.

“We spend a lot of time as a team workshopping each other’s poems and giving each other feedback,” he said.

The team members also help each other to figure out how to impress the most important parts upon the audience.

The main team competition, commonly referred to as the “tri-school” slam, will occur this spring between Tam, Drake, and Redwood. Redwood has won the event each of the past four years.