About 150 Milwaukee Public School students competed at a recent poetry slam organized by America SCORES Milwaukee, an organization that combines poetry, soccer and service learning.
A panel of judges selected 17 students who will move on to the next round, where they will compete to perform at the organization’s national poetry slam in New York City next April. Students in third- through fifth-grade competed.
Judges gave students feedback after each performance by holding up signs with words of encouragement such as “awesome” or “fantastic” in bold colorful fonts. They also offered suggestions to help students improve their creative writing and performance techniques.
Winners were selected in the following categories: “I remember,” acrostic, alliteration, epistle, simile and metaphor, free verse, color poetry, “I wish,” recipe, conversation, “I am,” quatrain, rhyme time, “where I am from” and haiku.
The students spent nine weeks preparing for the slam, which took place at Hayes Bilingual School, 971 W. Windlake Ave.
“I love when the kids come up looking very shy at first and then all of a sudden they start reading their poems and they come to life,” said Tammy Gilpin-Ripp, an advisory board member of America SCORES Milwaukee.
“One of the key elements of our program is to make sure that our kids have a voice,” said Kate Carpenter, executive director of the organization. “The poetry slam is just one aspect where our kids are able to get on stage and share their feelings about themselves and where they live.”
The judges were Kimberly M. Blaeser, Wisconsin poet laureate and professor of English at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; TaTiana Cash, traffic anchor and reporter for WTMJ-TV; Daniela Anderson-Fernandez, with the MPS partnership for the Arts & Humanities; Jessob Reisbeck, WakeUp news anchor for FOX6; and Breann Schossow, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter.
America SCORES is a national organization that serves about 8,000 students in 14 cities. The idea for the poetry slams came from Julie Kennedy, a public school teacher in Washington D.C. who wanted to offer constructive after-school activities to her students, according to Carpenter. Kennedy began teaching the kids how to play soccer to stop them from loitering in the streets. On rainy days she took the children inside to teach them her other passion, which was poetry.
Carpenter said her favorite part of the event is watching a student persevere to complete a poem after struggling at first.
“(That is) when I know our program is really making a difference,” Carpenter said. “Our kids are able to take a minute, think about what they need to accomplish and complete the task.”