Published April 4, 2023
BY RILEY PALSHAW
Flaunting their skills in iambic pentameter, rhyme scheme and playful structure, Carmel High School’s sophomore class will come together April 18 in the CHS theater for the annual Poetry Slam, highlighting student-written poetry in a powerful and competitive setting.
Started in 2011 by English teacher Dale DePalatis, this friendly competition serves as an opportunity for students to build their poetry skills and open up in a way that perhaps they haven’t considered before.
“As we’ve been doing poetry slams every year, I have seen how poetry has the power to open some students up who are either shy or just unengaged,” DePalatis says. “I’ve also seen how writing poetry has the power to help students clarify ideas about things they care about, so some students end up finding a passion or a cause they want to be involved in after writing poetry.”
With the freedom to write about whatever they want, participants often create works that cover a plethora of topics, from the triumph of sports and the scenes of nature to the loss of a loved one or struggles with mental health.
CHS English teacher Lily Owens recounts a poem from last year about a student translating forms from English to Spanish for a parent, sharing the experience of being a first-generation American. As Owens stresses, while voices like these may not always be heard at CHS, the slam gives all students an opportunity to speak.
“Creating a space within the classroom in which students feel comfortable sharing their art and their voice with one another is no easy task,” says Owens, “and it’s a job that I am hugely passionate about. That is why the slam is so incredibly powerful and valuable for our students. It is a huge asset to our school and to our community.”
The process to becoming a Poetry Slam winner is one that begins in the classroom. Starting in January, sophomores begin studying poetry in their English classes and eventually create works of their own. Near the end of the unit in early April, each student gets the chance to present their poetry to their class, but only the top three contestants from each class slam get to compete in the final round of competition.
“Although the Poetry Slam is a competition, what everyone up on that stage truly cares about is sharing poetry in a supportive, fun environment,” says last year’s winner, junior Alyssa Galicia. “Poetry is really about connection, and I loved hearing and connecting to the powerful perspectives of my peers. The experience was absolutely exhilarating–I think everyone walked out of the theater that night feeling inspired.”
Beyond the realm of verses and stanzas, DePalatis has noticed over the years that his students tend to write with better voice and poetic devices in their prose writing after the slam, making the contest not just a display of poetry, but a way of teaching that resonates with some students.
“I know that not every student will connect with poetry as an art form,” Owens says, “but the public speaking experience, the emphasis on cultivating voice in writing, these are the gifts that keep on giving.”
This year’s Poetry Slam will be in the CHS theater April 18 at 7 p.m. Free admission for all.