Slamming into Wilson’s poetry scene

Madelyn Shapiro

Every Wednesday, the Wilson Poetry Club meets in the library for a lunch period packed full of writing and laughter.

The group begins with one-word check-ins, where they describe their current mood. They then write poems based on different prompts or experiment with writing specific styles of poems, such as sonnets. Coach Kenny Carroll, a Wilson alumni poet, guides the team through these opening activities.

Librarian Pamela Gardner has sponsored the club for the past seven years that it has been here at Wilson. She is affectionately called “Momma G” by many of the poets. “I feed everybody, and I do the transportation, I do their letters of recommendation, I help them get community service, I help people get into college, I’ve had a former poet who lived with me after she lost her family… so I’m kind of like Momma,” Gardner explained.

The club has about 11 members, but only four to six become part of the Slam Poetry Team that competes in slams around DC, Maryland, and Virginia. There are several competitions and performances per season, including Hyper Bole, which took place on March 2, and Louder Than A Bomb, in which poets who advance past the preliminary round get the opportunity to perform at the Kennedy Center.

When writing poems, the students strive to think of unique topics they are passionate about. “We don’t usually have to do a specific theme, but we do try to stay away from the ‘usual’ poems, like political poems, because everyone writes political poems,” explained senior Maria Lazaro.

One of Lazaro’s poems is called, “Dear God.” “It’s basically a list of questions with some commentary on the existence of God, and what I would ask God if I could,” she explained.

Other poets, such as junior Naomi Schuster, write poems about mental health and relationships. “I really enjoy writing poetry because it gets all of my emotions out, and whatever I’m feeling out,” Schuster said.

The poets participate in a Wilson slam-off to determine who will compete in the competitions. They then practice performing their poems with emotion and energy. Although they are not required to memorize their poems, most students try to in order to avoid point deductions.

At the competitions, the poets perform their pieces to a panel of judges, who then score them on a one to 10 scale. “They mark you down if you have your phone out, if you read from a paper, if you mess up,” explained Schuster. “Last year I got a seven or eight on my first poem, even though I used my paper. They took points off from me for that. But they gave points based on what they felt like I did well.”

The judges themselves, however, are not required to have experience judging or writing poetry. “Sometimes we go to slams and they walk up to people on the street and say, ‘excuse me, what are you doing for the next two hours? Would you come in and judge a slam?’” Gardner said. “So it’s a competition, but it’s a friendly competition.”

The team is coached by poets from the organization Split This Rock, a nonprofit which seeks to expand the role of poetry in society. Gardner added that Wilson alumni who work for Split This Rock, such as Carroll, often request to come back and coach at Wilson.

For anyone interested in joining the poetry club, they meet every Wednesday during STEP in the library. The slam team will also be performing at the Wilson Artsfest, which will start Monday, April 29.