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West Jordan Journal

New poetry class slams the competition

Dec 08, 2016 02:46PM ● By Jet Burnham

Gabriel Overbaugh performs his slam poetry in front of fellow poets and faculty judges. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Poets at Copper Hills High School are enthusiastic about slam poetry. Their love of the art form and their high ratings at local competitions have earned them a poetry slam class, making them the only students in the state to earn English credit for performing slam.

Slam poetry has been a growing trend for several years. It has had a presence at Copper Hills for four years. Steve Haslam, who is the advisor for the poetry slam club, teaches the poetry slam class in addition to classes in creative writing and the school newspaper.

 “Four years ago, it was an after-school club,” Haslam said. 

Popularity grew as the club kept winning competitions with other schools. Two years ago, club members formed an official team. Copper Hills got a lot of attention as it consistently earned high scores.

“We usually win pretty dramatically,” said Haslam. But other teams are improving as slam becomes more popular. “We expect more competition as we go forward.”

Through a supportive administration, including former Vice Principal Kim Searle, Copper Hills was able to offer the slam poetry class for the first time this school year. In this unique course, students analyze each other’s poetry as well as that of professionals, noting topic, use of language, tone, word choice and presentation.  

Presentation is what sets slam apart from traditional poetry. When poetry is in written form, the reader deciphers meaning on their own. With slam, poets can guide the listeners through the experience. 

“A lot of slam is in the delivery,” said junior Sariya Martinez. “Poetry can be perceived in different ways—by how you perform and how the audience perceives.”  

English teacher Joshua Brothers serves as the performance coach, helping students strengthen their presentations.

 “The piece is supposed to be memorized, so you can be looking at people and moving your hands,” said Breckly Conner, a senior in the class. Engaging the audience is part of the art of slam. They are the judges, after all.

Judges are selected from the audience. The slam club’s PR officer, Gabriel Overbaugh, explains that judges are looking to “feel a connection.” 

If a piece creates imagery or emotionally moves them, judges give a higher score. Scores of 0–10 are awarded to each performer.

 “Ten is so good you want to tattoo it on your skin,” said Overbaugh. 

High and low scores are dropped, and the remaining scores are averaged for a final score.

 “You want to be relatable so people will hear you out,” said Conner. “Poetry is the art of the spoken word. You have to make someone relate to the point.” 

Slam audiences are very interactive. To show they agree with or like a line without being too loud and distracting, the audience snaps their fingers. If a student struggles with a line—whether they’ve become flustered or emotional—the audience will rub their hands together or call out “push!” to give encouragement. Slams get emotional because students are writing about what’s important to them.

“Academic poetry typically captures a moment in time while slam poetry tells an entire story about someone and their experience,” said Haslam.

Personal experiences influence the students’ pieces, which range from angry and edgy, to dark and moving, to comical and playful. 

 Martinez, who has always been a writer, joined the team last year. 

“I had an excess of emotions and stuff happening at home,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to write sad and angry pieces, but there are funny components to my poems.” 

“I do a lot of sad stuff because I’m a sad guy,” Overbaugh said. 

However, he is currently striving for more upbeat material as he is planning a charity slam event to benefit kids with cancer. 

  The Copper Hills team holds two showcases a year and competes as often as once a month. Haslam also coaches and gives tips and support to other teams. Students at Lone Peak lost their adviser but stayed in touch with Haslam, who made sure they stayed involved in competitions. Haslam also encourages students to attend community slams, which take place at local bookstores and coffee shops.