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Monday, May 4, 2015

National Poetry SLAM! diary: Three days in New York City!

DC SCORES Writing Coordinator Rachel Klepper accompanied poetry stars Jency M. and Leron B. on their trip to New York City for a weekend in the Big Apple with 25 other young poet-athletes culminating with the 9th Annual America SCORES National Poetry SLAM!. Read below for Rachel's recap of the experience and view the photo album HERE. Watch any part of the SLAM! in the embedded video above or by clicking HERE


Written by Rachel Klepper
Writing Coordinator

Day 1, April 11 -- On the Train to New York
Our journey to New York City began on Saturday morning when I met Jency and Leron at Union Station. We picked out some snacks and headed to the boarding area. Before we even made it to the train, the questions started: How long is the train ride? What will we do in New York? Will the buildings be really tall? This was both poets’ first trip to New York City, so they were full of questions and excitement.

On the train, Leron and Jency got to know one another and quickly became friends. They talked, watched movies, and eagerly awaited our arrival in New York. Finally, we stopped at Penn Station and made our way outside for their first glimpse of the city.

First we headed to the hotel to meet up with America SCORES staff and leave our suitcases. We got settled in quickly because Leron and Jency were impatient to explore! We had a few hours on our own before dinner since other cities' poets were still arriving from the airport. When I had first met the two poets back in DC, I asked them what they most wanted to see in New York. After hearing what they were interested in, I planned to use the time for two iconic New York activities: pizza and a visit to Times Square.

Both stops were a big success. We found an award-winning pizza store, where we all got enormous, cheesy slices. They were delicious! Then we walked through the crowded streets and soon emerged in the middle of Times Square. Jency and Leron’s eyes lit up as they saw the bright billboards, tall skyscrapers, and tempting stores all around them. It was a perfect introduction to the city.

When we returned to the hotel, it was time for dinner and meeting the 25 other poets who would be joining them for the weekend. Leron and Jency each settled in at a table with their three roommates and took part in a fun bingo icebreaker. After that the hard work began. They had their first performance workshop, where they began to understand how they would be preparing for Monday’s performance.

Day 2, April 12 -- Empire State Building!
Sunday morning started with a continuation of the Poetry SLAM! rehearsal. Each of the poets had a chance to practice the poem that they would perform on Monday night. Leron and Jency were both performing pieces that had won them Shine Awards at the DC SCORES Poetry Slam! in December, so they were experts at their poems. However, they still had lots to learn from their talented peers, and paid careful attention as Coach Tova gave them advice on their voice and movement.

After lunch, it was time for an adventure to the top of the Empire State Building! We divided up into groups by room, so I traveled with Jency and her three new friends from Milwaukee, Cleveland and Portland. We waited in line to go up two elevators to the top, and when we got there we were greeted by a spectacular view and perfect weather. The girls loved taking pictures and searching for landmarks - they even found the Statue of Liberty!

Although everyone was tired by the time we returned to our room, we could only take a short break because we needed to get ready for dinner. Our Sunday dinner took place at the Marriott in Times Square, so we got dressed up and quickly walked the twenty minutes to the hotel. The poets felt so important in the gorgeous hotel, eating from the amazing buffet -- they especially loved selecting their desserts! Some poets had family members join them. It was a wonderful way to celebrate the hard work and dedication the poets and their communities put into writing poetry and getting ready for the SLAM!.

Despite their busy day and a long walk back to the hotel, the poets were not ready to sleep. They were filled with anticipation for what Monday would bring. Since it was the final night before the performance, we got to participate in an America SCORES tradition: the SLAM! Pajama Party. The poets in our room performed their poems for one another in a relaxed, friendly environment, while snacking on popcorn, playing music, and trying on their new NYC souvenirs.

Day 3, April 13 -- SLAM! TIME

Monday was the day of the performance, but there was still a lot of work to do! After breakfast, the poets gathered for more rehearsing. They only had a few hours to learn the group poem that would open the show. Each poet had written an original line that they memorized in addition to the chorus. The most important part, however, was learning to recite the poem in unison and to accompany it with choreography.

During this rehearsal, the team really came together. They learned to listen to one another and to each ensure that they were doing their part to make sure the piece went smoothly.

Then it was on to Central Park, another New York spot Jency and Leron had heard about from movies and TV shows. They sat outside in the sun and ate sandwiches, and then participated in small soccer games. It was a great way for everyone to relax and have fun before the big night.

We went straight from the park to the venue for the SLAM!, the Thomson Reuters building in Times Square. The performance would be at the very top of the skyscraper! When we arrived, the poets did a dress rehearsal on stage. Then they had some time to hang out and change into their special T-shirts. Everyone was feeling pretty nervous, but they were encouraged because they knew that they would all be on stage together.

The time passed so quickly that the poets had just barely finished their pizza dinner when they were led upstairs and backstage. They began with their group poem, chanting in strong voices: “Louder than thunder my voice will be heard. I breathe my dreams alive, I CAN change the world!”

After that, each of the 25 poet-athletes recited their poem. Emcee Charity Blackwell -- a former DC SCORES staff member and coach -- helped the poets feel comfortable and happy on stage. Jency was one of the first poets to perform her poem about bullying. She boldly asked the sell-out audience, “Do you have the courage to go against bullying? and pointed straight to the middle of the room, encouraging all of us to take a stand for what we believe in. Later, it was Leron’s turn. He confidently took the microphone out of its stand to walk across the stage as he spoke, reciting a meaningful poem about the price of freedom.

During the hour-long SLAM!, the poets spoke about their lives, their hopes, and dreams. The poems ranged from funny to serious, but they all captured the audience's attention and encouraged us to see the depth and promise of these children's thoughts. After the last performance, the poets exited the stage, wearing sunglasses and huge smiles on their faces. They were so proud of what they had accomplished and enjoyed meeting their fans and signing programs -- a very celebratory end to the weekend.

Soon we returned to the hotel, and for the first time all weekend the girls quickly fell asleep. They were exhausted from the long day and needed to get up early on Tuesday to pack up and head home.

Day 4, April 14 -- Heading home
The next morning I brought Leron and Jency to the train and we settled into our seats. They were both so happy to have experienced New York City, made new friends, and to be part of a new community of poets. They realized that poetry is now an important part of who they are and how they express themselves. They returned to school more confident and proud to be themselves, and with wonderful stories of their adventures in the Big Apple.

It was a weekend that they will never forget.

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