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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Perspectives from Powell, Part VI: The Poetry Slam!

This fall, Writing Coordinator Mira Smith is coaching writing at Powell Elementary School in the Petworth neighborhood of Washington, DC. The Powell Panthers love soccer, but are also learning how to express their feelings about the beautiful game -- and much more -- through the poetry aspect of DC SCORES. Follow along as Mira takes us on a journey, through her words and those of her poet-athletes, leading up to the Poetry Slam! December 2.


Written by Mira Smith
Writing Coordinator


Today is the Poetry Slam! and based on my own jitters, it would seem that I, not my students, am the one about to perform on stage in front of 500 people.

Last night, I dreamt that the entire team decided to change the poems the last minute before the Slam! and they expected me to already be familiar with these new poems. I woke up relieved that this was only a dream, but am slightly embarrassed these fears are in my subconscious.

I am proud, however, of the investment to the team I have developed. When I tell the poet-athletes of the dream, one boy reminds me, “But you're not even in the show!”

The students arrive for a pizza party in Powell’s cafeteria and I immediately notice that a couple of poet-athletes are missing. One student informs me that four poet-athletes will not be attending the Slam! because of other obligations. Without hesitation, four students offer to recite those students’ lines because they have every single line memorized anyways ( these guys are amazing!).

The after-care students file into the cafeteria and watch the Powell Power Panthers practice their performance once more before the Slam!. The visible support from their teachers and classmates helps to build the air of anticipation and excitement. We all sit together, munch on some pizza and anxiously await the arrival of the bus.

After what feels like waiting for hours, we hop on the bus and take the 15-minute ride to Columbia Heights Education Campus. Our performance is right in the middle of the lineup of 19 schools, and although some poets are disappointed that we cannot be earlier and get it over with, I explain that this will be a perfect way to learn from the other teams. I am moved, inspired and heartened by every single performance, with topics ranging from immigration to racial injustice to soccer and teamwork.

Next thing I know, a DC SCORES staff member taps me on the shoulder and instructs Coach Matt and I to to bring the team outside to the hallway leading backstage. A photographer snaps a quick team photo and a videographer walks up and down the line of poets capturing the team’s pre-performance nerves. Executive Director Bethany Rubin Henderson gives a quick and effective pep-talk to the Powell Panthers reminding them to speak clearly and directly into the microphones and of course to have lots of fun.

After we hear a round of applause from the previous performance, we walk through the backstage area and wait until emcee Charity Blackwell announces Powell. Coach Matt and I watch from backstage as the Powell Power Panthers execute their introduction, first, second and third poems. I am particularly blown away by Rosio’s individual poem and how she flawlessly incorporates a step routine. There are a few minor hiccups in the performance, but the poets recover quickly.

After, we all walk back to our seats and are able to watch the rest of the show without any stress. To the dismay and disappointment of the Powell Power Panthers, we do not win any awards for the performance. But in comparison to previous years when they were embarrassed by the performance, this year the poet-athletes believed that they actually had a chance of winning. In my opinion, this demonstrates that we really did do our best.

Although many Powell poet-athletes walk back to the bus with shrugged shoulders from disappointment, I hope that when they think of the progress they have made since the first poetry session in September, they will think of it as a win.


My name is Rosio,
What you got on me yo?
I’m the flyest chick around these parts
And I make art that breaks hearts.
You cannot compare to me
I am an 11 year old prodigy.
You are lucky to see me here.
My words will blow out your ears…

-- Rosio H., 11

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