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Poetry Slam: There will be poems (& art & Springfield flavor)

Claire’s sketch notes

After our first/last highly successful poetry slam, demand grew for us to schedule a second event before the school year ended.  And last week we did.

Although I worried that final projects, prom, graduation, finals, etc. would get in the way, the kiddos from my dear Literary Mag, Gay Straight Alliance, Book Club and Gallery Club, again assured me, Dr. V, there will be poems.

This time around we combined the slam with a Gallery opening.  And so, my art teacher friend, Mark, worried if there would be art.

I had four poems in hand the day of the event.  Mark had three pieces of art.  Because of the success of the last event, we decided to go with the flow.

It all worked better than we could have imagined.   Last time I carefully researched what a slam should look like and organized a traditional slam.  This time around we bagged the judging and tried to celebrate the art and validate our poets in new ways.  We asked students–Lana and Maria–to emcee.

Mark and I had a major creative breakthrough right before we started.

Inspired by the sketch-noting that has been part of major cultural events like TED and SXSW and by the success of a recent lesson we presented on visual note-taking, we provided paper and markers and asked student artists to respond to the poems they heard by sketching memorable images, phrases, ideas.  In addition, Lit Mag decorated the Gallery with a garland of students’ six-words poetry  stars.

six-word poems

The kids began to arrive and so did the poems and so did the art and so did the guitars.  
Kids who did not have a poem when they arrived, wrote one on the spot.  The audience spanned 9-12th grades and crossed informal high school social groups.
And, in one way or another, everyone participated ad we celebrated creativity as part of school culture.
Here’s our archive.

I asked some of our Slam planners to reflect:

In many ways this Slam felt like a perfect conclusion to this year. Everyone seemed even more comfortable sharing parts of themselves this time.  People were writing poetry as they listened to others and getting up to share it a moment later. Not everything was perfectly polished but all of it was from the heart. The poetry was incredibly personal and it was really interesting to see a different side of some students. It’s amazing what people are willing to share with you when you give them a chance to be heard. I loved the art being created to accompany the poetry. Many of them gave such great insight not only into the poem but also the artist and the lens through which they saw the Poetry Slam. Our garland of six words stars seemed to be the perfect bridge between poetry and art. 

A lot of people have said things to me about what you leave behind when you graduate. I’m just so incredibly proud to be leaving behind the Slam. Some students seemed to think the Slams were a long running Springfield tradition. (Which definitely made me feel better about the moments that felt awkward or last minute) For a long time it felt like a nice idea but something we would never be able to pull together and it definitely seemed impossible to garner interest. But with a lot of time and planning we were able to make not only one but two Slams happen.


This year’s poetry slam  was great! I’ve never been one to read, write, or even listen to poetry. But at the Poetry Slam, I did them all. I always thought poetry had to be deep and meaningful and even sometimes rhyme, but I learned though that poetry is an outward expression of you!  So before the Slam I wrote my own poem that represented a part of high school life, leading me into graduation. I was a little nervous about it, but everyone was so supportive and kind that it lessened the pressure. And everyone loved it. Through the Poetry Slam I was able to know people I had already thought I knew on a much deeper and more personal level.  All around the Poetry slam was a great experience and a great way to finish off my senior year.


We were worried about not having enough poems, but so many people wrote poems on the spot that we went right until the end of the Slam. Our school is filled with talented writers and it was great to see them get up and express themselves. It was really inspiring.  I’m not the best writer, but when it was over I felt like I wanted to go home and write pages and pages of poetry. I am so excited to plan and participate in our future Slams.

Here’s a bit of the flavor.


Explaining sketch-noting

Senior counter (subject of Lana’s poem)

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. It’s true that I was on Def Poetry even though I’ve never slammed. I’m probably the only person to be on there who hasn’t slammed. And I think most people on Def Poetry have won slams or done well in slams. And, all of them, except the special guest stars, the celebrities, are writing slam poems and performing slam poems on Def Poetry, so to me, Def Poetry is still extremely slam-informed, and I think it will probably always be. What they say about Def Poetry is that it wants to bring an urban feel. And to me, they don’t mean black or Latino, or non-white. What they really mean is, a rhythm of poetry that comes out of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe , that came out of the slams.

  2. Ryan Carpenter says

    For the past three years I have been reading “Bronx Masquerade” by Nikki Grimes. Each year I follow that up with a poetry assignment that is, surprisingly, a big hit. I’m thinking of bringing this to another level. How did you get started with the poetry slam? Where can I find some information regarding the proper (or improper) format of a poetry slam? I’m open to any suggestions.

    P.S. Do you think this can work with 8th graders?


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