Slam poets relieve stress with communal catharsis

Bertina Xue, Arts Layout Editor

Slam Poetry Club member junior Alex Chin started his poem with a quivering voice and shaky hands, but the respectful atmosphere and eager faces of his fellow club members helped him relax.

The Slam Poetry Club has grown ever since it was founded by junior Josh Grossman in 2012. Many students, though initially hesitant, tried this form of poetry and said they found it to be an effective outlet for their emotions.

“Teenagers are intense; there’s no way of getting around it,” English Curriculum Coordinator and Slam Poetry Club adviser Mary Burchenal said. “When you’re a teenager, you’re experiencing a lot of feelings for the first time and they just hit you like a tidal wave sometimes. I think very powerful poetry can come out of that.”

According to Chin, slam poetry helps teenagers relieve stress and is very eye-opening.

“If I wasn’t in Slam Poetry Club I wouldn’t know a lot of the things that go on in the lives of people,” Chin said. “It gives you a whole new perspective and also teaches you that you really can’t judge someone from what you know or from seeing them a few times around the school. They have lives too behind all that, and slam poetry lets them show that.”

According to Chin, the club has serious and funny moments, but it is always a safe place that helps students share freely.

Photo by Sofia Tong Junior Alex Chin performs at the TeenWord poetry slam. Chin said the club has taught him to keep an open mind and not to judge people before knowing them.
Photo by Sofia Tong
Junior Alex Chin performs at the TeenWord poetry slam. Chin said the club has taught him to keep an open mind and not to judge people before knowing them.

“You’ll read what you want and everyone will applaud and give you feedback,” Chin said. “They’ll give you constructive criticism too, like how to improve on it but also tell you what they like about it. There are some members that definitely show their appreciation very loudly. It makes you feel welcome.”

According to sophomore Arden Kelly, joining the Slam Poetry Club helped her deal with stress from school.

“It was really hard to cope with some of the stress of high school. Being able to write about it in a club and having people know what I’m going through and being supportive of it is a good feeling to have,” she said.

Grossman said slam poetry is a great way for someone to convey what he or she is going through by storytelling and sharing.

“High school is such a stressful period with grades, and the college application process is incredibly time consuming. All of the issues and dramas of becoming a teenager in this day and age in the American high school system are stressful as well,” Grossman said, “What’s great about slam poetry is that it can really get any feelings you might have, any aggression, angst or compassion out.”

According to Burchenal, the Slam Poetry Club members are of varying skill levels, but this does not affect the amount of support each person receives.

“In that room, they all get the same amount of support and it’s wonderful in that way,” Burchenal said. “It’s kind of like a warm, fuzzy equalized room where the poetry is the highest value, and students are equals in the face of that.”

Burchenal said the point of slam poetry is being heard, sharing your story and then having a connection with an audience that might be all strangers. The slogan at every poetry slam is, “The point is not the points, the point is the poetry.”

“There aren’t that many opportunities, especially for teenagers, to share their personal stories with an audience. It’s one thing to tell your best friend, but that’s different because your best friend has to love you and accept you. They’re going to say, ‘That’s okay,’” Burchenal said. “To perform your story and say what you really have to say, then for strangers to say, ‘I hear that. That is my experience too. Thank you so much for writing about that,’ That is powerful.”

Bertina Xue can be contacted at [email protected]