I had a wonderful experience tonight. I spent the evening at the local high school because a couple of teens I know were showcasing their poetry at the Cheltenham High School Poetry Slam. Many of these kids compete regionally (in the greater Philadelphia area) as part of a school team. While there was a little bit of what you would expect from high school student poetry (broken hearts, teen angst, etc.), there was also some pretty profound stuff going on. One poem was about an absent father, and it moved skillfully between rage, humor, regret, and wisdom. Another student reached out to a friend lost to the pursuit of an easy high, and tried to call her back with reflections on the joys of a middle school life full of simple pleasures and youthful confidence. A third student poignantly reflected on the Daily Routine of being stopped and harassed by white cops for simply being out and about and a young black man in our town. The poets celebrated the preciousness of family and of the moment (in their delight in the weather, in the moments of connection, or not, at a party, in the music of a band in the train station), and they mourned the loss of parents, of cousins shot dead in their prime, of siblings falsely imprisoned. There were lines and phrases that will stay with me–“Don’t you know I’m some species of unlovable”–delivered with poise and precision by kids just 15 to 18 years old, kids who have mined their moments and inner experiences for the gems strung artfully into creations delivered tonight to a large, but sadly pretty segregated, crowd. White Cheltenham, PA, you are missing out on beautiful, powerful stuff by overlooking this event. Even the emcees were wonderful. They had great chemistry, did nice interviews with the poets while the judges were scoring the poems, and kept the evening moving. This event lasted almost 4 hours, and it flew by. I pray these kids keep writing, keep performing, keep receiving the encouragement they got from the warm and expressive crowd tonight, and keep supporting one another with the incredible camaraderie they showed amid the competition for tonight’s prize. These kids make me grateful and proud to be part of their community.
Keep your eyes peeled for the future work of:
Ray Patterson (winner)
Jeremy Goldsmith (2nd place)
Dana Kluchinski (3rd place)
Mcintosh Bazile (finalist)
and the other wonderful competitors:
and Mecca Smith
with emcees: Rachel Bain, Michael Fuller, Judah Klein, and Francine Marquis.