For the past seven years at Carlisle School, students in Freshman English have performed in a spring poetry slam for their final class project. A poetry slam is a competition arts event, where participants perform spoken word poetry before a live audience and a panel of judges.
The event is usually performed at the Carlisle Community Amphitheater on campus with an audience of classmates, friends, family, and faculty. This year, COVID-19 kept the poetry slam from being held as an event on campus, but the virus did not stop the creativity and spirit of our Carlisle Chiefs. As they say, “the show must go on.”
Following their unit on The Poet’s Voice, instructor Susan Aaron organized a Zoom meeting to allow the students to perform their original poetry works at the “COVID-19 Virtual Slam-It.”
Friends, family, and faculty were invited to watch the online event, and guest judges were also present to score each performance. Props are not allowed, and performances at poetry slams are judged as much on enthusiasm and style as the content.
Aaron said, “When they step on the stage, the students are fearful. However, when they finish, they are fierce. Slam-It is one of my favorite days of the year.”
Thirteen students performed at the event this year. Aaron instructed guests that snapping fingers is preferred over applause at a poetry slam. In a New York Times article, poetry instructor Bianca Spriggs explained that clapping in response to an emotional poem can be off-putting, both to the poet and to the clapper. She added, “Snapping is quiet, and it offers encouragement when you don’t want to bring too much attention.”
Poems presented at the slam ranged across a variety of topics, including the isolation of COVID-19, personal achievement, sports, identity, gaming, friendship, race, gender equity, and loss.
In addition to the students present, twenty-five additional guests also took part in the poetry slam. These included a panel of four judges. Head of School Gracie Agnew was joined by Dr. Missy Lannom, the mother of 2015 Carlisle Alumnus Parker Lannom. Two alumni also joined her: Emilee Elizabeth Aaron ’17 is a senior at the College of Charleston, Gwenith Owen-Williams ’13 graduated from Kenyon College in 2017, and lives in New York City.
The students were well-rehearsed and presented a great deal of emotion in the performance of each poem. Following their performances, Aaron unmuted guest microphones on the Zoom call so that everyone could snap in approval and support. She also displayed a digital copy of each student’s poem on the screen between readings so that all could admire the work. Aaron explained that she encouraged students to search for words in their writing that should be emphasized to illustrate their meaning, such as BIG or small or AnGrY.
She said, “Our Freshman English course not only builds vocabulary, writing skills, and grammatical accuracy but also builds our students’ reflection skills and oratory skills. Poetry is the vehicle that allows the students to explore and discover how powerful their written and spoken word can be.”
After all the performances and judging were complete, winners of the “COVID-19 Virtual Slam-It” were announced.
Fourth place and the winner of a $20 cash prize was Emily Cahill, who shared the heartbreaking loss of her infant cousin, Hope, in The Memory.
Third place and the winner of a $30 cash prize was Bridget Belk, who explained the range of sensations and emotions experienced while swimming in Gasp.
Second place and the winner of a $40 cash prize was Christian Jamison, who shared the pressure of personal achievement in Failure is Not an Option.
First place and the overall winner of the 2020 “COVID-19 Virtual Slam It” was Finley Brightwell. She earned a $50 cash prize for her intense and thought-provoking poem about gender inequality titled She Is.