A couple of weeks ago the high school where I currently teach hosted a very special event. This is my first year at this school, so I had never heard of nor participated in what I found out was called “Get Lit.” This is an event where local students and young people from around Los Angeles stand on our stage and recite poetry to our students. My first reaction was one of sheer horror. I reached for my riot gear before heading for the auditorium. Surely this would be a disaster. Boy was I wrong.
As awesome as this sounded, I had predetermined that our students would not buy into this event. I have taught poetry for several years now, and I am always met with slight hesitation, and then the students are wowed because they end up “getting” what the poem is about. This, on the other hand, was a poetry slam.
As the slam started the MC, a man in charge of the GetLit program, welcomed the students and gave them a few rules and instructions on manners. His calm and jovial presence made everyone in the audience feel comfortable and excited. He told the students to be respectful, but to express their connection with the poets with snaps, claps, and by interjecting by saying “word” if you agreed. It felt as though we were waiting to see a rock show or a debut of a new movie.
There were six students on stage from different areas of Los Angeles. Three young gentlemen and three young ladies. The MC introduced the first reader, “Give it up for Junior!” The crowd cheered. He began reciting an original poem about social media and modern friendships. It was profound, well written, and presented passionately. The audience went nuts. I was in disbelief. In a few short minutes, they had gotten a room full of reluctant teens to enjoy a poetry slam.
It wasn’t the fact that they enjoyed the poetry that stunned me. My students enjoy poetry, and they express it well. Some enjoy the classics we read in class. Some enjoy the weird ass poetry we read because it is weird (e.g. The Red Wheelbarrow). Some enjoy well-written rap verses and song lyrics, which can be truly poetic. What surprised me was that almost every student in that auditorium was engaged and connected with the poets. For a brief moment, we were a school of poets. What a beautiful thing.
Why were they so engaged in the poems? The themes. These were teens expressing their views on life, their frustrations, and their anger towards society. We can all relate to that. It also helped that these poets were just amazing. Here are a few poems from the GetLit team:
I admire this program for what they do and what they stand for. It was inspirational to me to see young poets at work. Anytime you get a young person involved in the area of literature you are doing great things for the world. It is particularly exciting when students themselves break down the stigmatized walls that make poetry so intimidating. Thanks GetLit.