By Ken DeLaat, N3
Courage takes as many forms as the fears that demand it.
On Thursday afternoon I attended a poetry reading at Flying Bear Books in downtown Newaygo. The session was part of a program funded by a grant from the Fremont Area Community Foundation. A program aimed at giving voice to the creative work of our young people. Allowing an atmosphere for the words they have written to be read aloud, by them and in front of others. To expand their expression beyond writing by adding a performance piece to the poem.
The concept known as slam poetry took root some 40 years ago when a Chicago poet named Marc Kelly Smith, having felt poetry had lost its passion, began organizing events allowing any and all to read their work in a public setting. To allow the emotion behind the poems to be articulated by the author. Slam events grew and spread throughout the country and other parts of the world as well and have been known to take place in the downtown Newaygo bookstore that hosted the student session.
But on this day it wasn’t a slam. It was preparation for an upcoming slam-like competition called Spotlight Poetry that would culminate in the final readings at the Grant Fine Arts Center on May 17th.
And if what they unleashed during this peer review is any indication of what this innovative catalyst for creativity will be bringing forth, the finals should be nothing short of awesome.
As part of the program each of our county high schools has an educator designated as the ELA (English Language Arts) Poetry Champion who is working with the aspiring poets from their district. Newaygo ELA instructor Donna Grodus who is the Project Coordinator set the tone for the peer review as she described the process about to unfold and finished with “Who wants to go first?”.
After a short pause the first poet took to the front of the gathering and shared his work. When he finished there was a pause before the first feedback came through from one of the other poets.
Soon others chimed in offering both support and suggestions. Ms. G. and the Poetry Champions present also delivered some input.
Then after an encouraging ‘who’s next?’ another young poet delivered her work and received the subsequent reaction from the audience..
And so it went on as each of the 11 poets, some reluctantly but dutifully, entered the fray.
Their work was raw, emotional, humorous, dramatic, comedic, adventurous and even a bit painful at times. They played with metaphors, toyed with symbolism and rolled out rhythmic riffs. These young word artists poured out their life on paper then mustered the courage to not only allow others to hear their words but actually inviting them to critique their work, no small feat.
I was moved not only by these shared glimpses into their lives but by their resolve in taking the risk of putting those words out for all to see. They listened to the suggestions, vowed to make some of the changes in their manner of presenting and seemed to form a strong collegial spirit with the others in the group. The participants were rewarded with a gift certificate for the bookstore and provided with a table loaded with an appealing array of good eats as well. All part of the effort to encourage involvement and participation.
But on this occasion it wasn’t the snacks or the gifts they received that brought these blossoming poets to the book store.
It was a desire to have their work heard by others. To use their words in expressing their inner thoughts and feelings with honesty and clarity.
The five finalists (one from each school) will be selected by their designated instructor and their work will be submitted to Ms. Grodus. Each finalist will have a 1-on-1 virtual stage performance workshop with a coach experienced in preparing people for such events.
And while each finalist will receive $100 for their efforts one poet will also take home a $1000 grand prize for their winning performance.
Yes, we said $1000.
The Modern Spotlight Poetry Project is an impressive program aimed at tapping into the inspiration held by our local youth and developing their artistic talents. It is hoped the program will continue to grow and plans are already being discussed for future initiatives.
But for this year, anxious to see the results of the mentoring being done by Ms. Grodus and the other educators, I plan on settling into a seat at the GFA Center next month.
And, poetry fan or not, if you want to get a glimpse of yet another example of the creativity our local young people bring to the table?
Please join me.
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