Starting a poetry club or slam team at your school and community can be easy, but it certainly comes with its fair share of obstacles.
The first step is getting approval if necessary. I’m sure most principals wouldn’t mind having poetry club or slam team in their school, but it needs to be clear what the purpose of your club is in order to avoid any issues in the future. When we started Poetic Pathos at our high school, we made clear that we are giving our students a unique voice and there may be times when they are going to talk about certain social or systemic issues that exist today. Most principals would rightfully be apprehensive at first, so it’s important to establish how you are going to ensure that all poems will be monitored and reviewed, and students will be limited in what they say.
We’re from a community that is relatively very conservative, so we started off being very mindful about what topics we wrote about and how we approached certain poems. Eventually, as time went on we became a little more open. This came with the community growing and being more open. You’re still going to have people angry, but it helps when you establish the support from your administration and most of the community.
The next step is foundation. What are your goals of the poetry club that you want to make clear? Who is going to lead the club? Is there a student leader that you can rely on right away? When will you meet? Is there going to be a slam team aspect? These are all questions that we needed to figure out right away, but failed to do so before we jumped into creating Poetic Pathos. Thankfully, it all came together, but the process could have certainly been easier.
We started the club with over 40 kids interested and wanting to participate. This was amazing to us. Sadly, that 40 dwindled down to about 20, but we were able to create a slam team that focuses on the competitive aspect of poetry. Our initial auditions were just based on if a student had natural talent. Since the club was new, our expectations weren’t as high. This is important if you want to establish something in the school or community. You don’t want to go into creating a slam team and expect the next Sarah Kay or Rudy Francisco to just come about. These are kids who need to grow. As time goes on and you have talent who have grown significantly, your expectations can certainly increase. We got to the point in which we even created a JV team that focuses on growth and a Varsity team who competes. It all depends on how many students and how you think your organization will succeed.
The next step is publicity. It took our organization a good four months before we performed for the first time. It took us another six months before we performed in front of the community. We started off performing for our school’s forensics tournament, and eventually, through one of our art teacher’s connections (the local poet Northstar), we were able to perform in front of a coffee house in Hope Mills.
From there, we worked on getting our name and image out into the community. Contacting local poets who are also big in the community is a big help. Social media sites are also important. The biggest help has certainly been performing in front of audiences in the community. We had the fortunate opportunity to perform at venues like the Sweet Palette, the Coffee Scene, Cumberland Coffee Roasters, Barber Kings, various churches, and even city hall. All of these performances helped highlight our team’s talent and spread the word.
Now, it’s all about deciding what you want your team to accomplish. Many teachers have already talked to us about just staying local at their school. Others have been open to introducing their students to Poetic Pathos and giving them the chance to perform nationally. We still have our own poetry club at Gray’s Creek High School and we have a separate Gray’s Creek Slam Team that performs and competes locally. It acts as an affiliate, in which our students are automatically a part of Poetic Pathos if they choose to be. That’s always an option for any local youth poetry club or slam team.
Hopefully, this gives you an idea of what goes into creating this for students. It could be a challenge, but it’s definitely worth it in the end. As a coach, it’s definitely the best feeling in the world seeing one of your students get on that stage, perform, and get an applause that makes them feel special.