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Thursday, April 21, 2016

America SCORES National Poetry SLAM! journal: Three days in New York City

In mid-April, DC SCORES Writing Coordinator Mira Smith accompanied star poet-athlete M'kya, 10, to New York City for the 10th Annual America SCORES Poetry SLAM! and a weekend full of memory-making. During three days, M'kya, a KIPP QUEST Academy fourth-grader, experienced many firsts, made friends with SCORES students from across the country, and inspired a capacity audience on SLAM! night.

Here, in chronological order, is Mira's journal from the trip:


Previous M'kya posts
Get to know M'kya, Part I
Part II
Part III

Written by Mira Smith
Writing Coordinator

Saturday, April 9
After weeks of preparation and excitement, it was finally time to head to New York City for the America SCORES National Poetry SLAM!. M’kya and her mother Akita arrived at Union Station wearing incredible matching homemade DC SCORES KIPP QUEST T-shirts. We ate lunch together, picked out some snacks for the journey, and boarded the train. I relaxed during the train ride and M’kya spent the majority of the trip sleeping and writing in her journal. After we passed through Philadelphia, M’kya started counting down the stops until we would arrive in NYC.

Once we arrived at Penn Station, we walked a couple of blocks to our hotel to meet the other SCORES staff and poets. M’kya and I headed up to our room (on the 25th floor!) where she met her roommate for the weekend. The first event of the evening was the welcome dinner for all of the poets. Dinner was virtually silent as many poets had been traveling since early morning and looked like they longed for sleep. The poets played a fun ‘human bingo’ icebreaker and then had their first rehearsal with coach Tova where they learned about the rest of the weekend.

Eventually we headed upstairs to our penthouse suite, settled in and went to sleep.

Sunday, April 10
Sunday morning began with an exciting breakfast of New York style bagels — M’kya couldn’t believe how big they are in New York! All of the poets walked together to the SVA Theatre where the SLAM! would be held. They were wide-eyed, in awe of the performance space, and I could sense the excitement building. Coach Tova led the poets in voice warm-ups and taught the complex choreography for the the group poem. Although repetitive and tiresome, after a couple of hours the 13 poets who had just met each other the night before made incredible progress on their performance.

Next we ate lunch at a Barbecue restaurant where the poets had a chance to meet and chat with some professional poets including Charity Blackwell — former DC SCORES staff member and the emcee of the SLAM! — from D.C. Already, the poets had formed friendships with each other and mealtime was much more lively than the night before.

For the next few hours, we had a chance to do some sightseeing. M’kya and her friends decided to start with the Empire State Building. Along the way, we passed the public library and then finally turned a corner and suddenly came upon the impressively tall building. After two long elevator trips, we made it to the observation deck.

M’kya and her friends were astounded with how much it was possible to see from the top. They found the Statue of Liberty, Central Park and even our hotel! Everyone decided on Times Square for the next destination, so we all walked together toward the bright lights and billboards. After taking numerous photos with disney characters and superheroes, we headed to the m&m store. Who knew there could be a three-story building dedicated solely to m&m’s?

We headed back to the hotel for a quick break and then made our way to a fancy dinner joined by SCORES staff from around the country in town for the America SCORES conference. M’kya and her new friends spent most of the dinner playing games including the newly invented rhythm game “SCORES poet,” and a hilarious challenge where a person needs to find a straw using her mouth with her eyes closed. Emcee Charity Blackwell challenged the poets to a boys versus girls dance off the next night after the SLAM!, and so by the end of dinner everyone was secretly planning their dance moves and music selection.

Although tired from the long day, we headed back to the hotel for the annual slam pajama party — a tradition each year of the event. M’kya and her roommates covered the hotel floor in pillows and blankets, ate popcorn and candy and played different games to practice their poetry. Their favorites included a pillow-fight/freeze-dance poetry game and a battle to recite the group chants with as much attitude as possible. That night, the poets had no trouble falling asleep.

Monday, April 11
After eating another huge New York bagel, M’kya and the other poets spent the morning rehearsing group and individual poems with Coach Tova. It was amazing to see how much progress the poets made in just two days!

We ate a quick lunch at the hotel and then rode a bus to Central Park. It was a beautiful sunny day and the group found a perfect grassy spot to play soccer, run around and continue to get to know each other. Everyone had a blast spending time outside and releasing some nervous energy.

Next we headed back to the hotel, gathered our things and took a bus to the SVA Theatre. The poets rehearsed through the entire show complete with microphones, lighting and choreography. They even got a sneak preview of DC SCORES alumnus Xavier Crowell’s slam poetry performance! The group enjoyed a delicious dinner of New York pizza and then headed backstage while the guests arrived.

Each poet received their very own America SCORES National SLAM! jersey with their home city printed on the back. While the poets did some final voice warm-ups with Coach Tova, I grabbed my seat in the audience and waited eagerly for the show to start.

The powerful group poem “It Takes Courage” started off the show and the rest of the poems continued smoothly without a hitch. M’kya rocked her individual poem, "Could Rap Music Be," proving why she was picked to represent D.C at the Slam. Whether serious or silly, each individual poet blew away the audience with his or her thoughtful and poignant words.

After the final group poem, the poets ran off stage to the reception. The group spent the rest of the evening autographing each other’s shirts and the audience members’ programs. In DC SCORES tradition, the evening ended in a dance off where the poets got to show off their sweet moves, be goofy and celebrate with one another. Every participant felt proud of their individual and group accomplishments.

Tuesday, April 12
In the morning, M’kya, Akita and I walked to Penn Station. We stopped along the way to buy a couple of souvenirs and then boarded the train back to D.C. The weekend was memorable for everyone involved, and personally I can’t wait to hear M’kya’s next original poem.

I'm sure there will be many more!

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