When 10-year-old Nasani Danvers stepped to the microphone to deliver “Family Dinners” at P.S. 305’s 2nd Annual Poetry Slam back in April – which is National Poetry Month — she was more than ready to “bring it.”
“I wanted [the audience] to hear my poem,” says Nasani, who graduates this month from the elementary school and will attend The Urban Assembly Institute for Math, Science and Leadership for Young Women in the fall. “The one thing that I really like to do is for all of my family to come together for dinner at my family’s house.”
Nasani’s poem flowed sans rhyming. That’s because Janelle Lord, the school’s literacy and technology coach, taught Nasani as well as Clara Caasi Sharhran Huff, Justin Scott, Kayla Gordon, Joanqiua Matthis and Dashawn Dixon, a different method of writing poetry.
“I had them to write a very short story about something that they cared a lot about,” said Lord, who enlisted the support of parent coordinator Lorrie Ayers and third-grade teacher Anaya Grant. “Then, I had them to begin to lift the most significant lines from their story. They were taking the essential ideas and profound statements from what they said and pulling them out — almost like dropping the lines onto another piece of paper.”
Clara Caasi Sharhran Huff, the sole surviving fourth grader in the poetry slam, had an easy time lifting lines. Clara’s story, which expressed her passion for art, turned into a cute and catchy poem entitled “I Am Art.” It reads:
Expressing myself in many pictures
Do it everyday just to talk to myself
Changes the way I see the world
Makes me feel much better about me
Spectacular Phenomenal Beautiful
perfection Colors show my inside thoughts Makes me dig deeper It’s my future IAm Art
At a certain point, said Lord, a part of the revision process was utilizing a thesaurus. Some of the students went onto www.thesaurus.com and found other ways to say the same thing.
“I felt like this was an opportunity for them to expand their vocabulary just a little bit more,” explained Lord, who oversaw an oratory contest prior to the slam. “I feel that even though these opportunities might be small ones, they make a difference because those children walked away with knowing how to go to the website. Now, they have that resource to take away with them even if they’re not doing poetry.”
Eleven-year-old Justin Scott, who penned the poem “My Family,” utilized the website to find synonyms for the word “sad.” Justin said he wanted to express just how blue he would be if he didn’t have his loved ones in his life. “My family means everything to me,” said Justin, who will be attending MS 113 for performing arts in the fall and currently plays on his school’s basketball team.
To give the young poets an example of alternative forms of poetic expression, Lord played a video of “Harlem Renaissance” Poet Langston Hughes delivering one of his pieces. New York spoken word artist David The Werdsman Lewis, who served as a judge for the evening event, performed two of his latest works live. Assistant Principal Bruce Copeland recited a childhood favorite and even had one of the student audience members be a part of his presentation, which had everyone captivated and glued to every word he said.
Kayla Gordon, whose poem “Pork Chop” talked about a dog she once had that died after being hit by a car, said she was thankful for the experience. “It taught me how to articulate in front of an audience,” says the 11-year who will attend MS 113 for performing arts in September.
Nasani’s energetic delivery of what she loves about family dinners as well as her constant eye contact with the audience and poem clarity earned her the first-place title with the judges. Lord believes that every participant walked away as a winner of the poetry slam. She gave each of them a gift bag which contained a journal, pen and highlighter. She wants them to continue writing and “lifting” lines beyond the competition.
“They are living, breathing poets,” Lord insists. “Everything they come across in life can be written down.”
For any student looking to enter a poetry slam or just write poetry to deliver in front of others, Joaniqua Matthis, a fifth grader who wrote “Sweet Sasha” — a poem about her favorite Build-a-Bear stuffed animal — says: “Don’t be afraid to express yourself.” Justin, who won second place in the slam added: “Show people how you feel with your writing and you’ll do [well] with poetry.”