Poetry team prepares for Slam

Emma Peters

In her spoken word poem about hurtful relationships, senior Grace Gravley mused that “you can’t put a Band-Aid on a brain.”

Currently a member of Redwood’s poetry slam team, Gravley hopes to perform her original poem in the district’s annual poetry slam competition along with seven other teammates at the Little Theater on May 8.

Redwood, Drake, and Tam teams will perform individually and will be judged on the quality of their writing and presentation of their poems on a numerical scale by selected audience members. The top two teams will also perform an original group poem that determines the winner, according to Slam team adviser and English teacher Jeff Ryan.

Auditions were held in January. Ryan said that participants have the unique experience to express their ideas not only through their words but also through performances.

“Spoken word poetry comes from the hip-hop movement, the poetry version is spoken word,” Ryan said. “Poetry slam tends to be a little more political and written from the heart.”

The poetry slam team meets Mondays at lunch in co-adviser Alex Franklin’s room to prepare for the competition.  Ryan and Franklin encourage their team members to explore new themes and performance styles, according to sophomore and first time team member Sabrina Nargiz.

Ryan said common topics in their poetry are sexual identity, authority figures, environmentalism, and current politics.

Gravley, who joined the team last year, said that she treats her performance as a song because it can present an issue or emotion in an engaging way.

“I think of it as a rap without music,” Gravley said. “Every poem has its own beat and feel to it. Using the rhythm that you can create, you can impact the people around you.”

For others like Nargiz, the performance component of the competition can be more stressful than the writing component.

“It’s still nerve-racking since there is a big emotional factor in Poetry Slam versus regular poetry writing,” Nargiz said. “What’s helpful is that every week we have poetry assignments that we perform during the club, so you build confidence. Everybody is really supportive.”

The Redwood team has won the Tam District’s poetry slam for the past three consecutive years. Gravley said there is pressure to uphold the winning title, but she is confident that hosting the event at the Little Theater will be to their advantage.

Ryan said the slam benefits both participants and spectators.

“Both get to see the variety of ways that you can use language to get a certain point across, and I think that a lot of people don’t think as creatively about the uses of language,” Ryan said. “Poetry encourages that and makes your writing more impactful and emotionally resonant.”