The auditorium was electric. You could feel the anticipation and energy in the room. For about 30 high school slam poets and many of their friends and family - this was a big night. It was the City Finals for the Milwaukee High School Slam Poetry league.
12 schools have been competing since January, and on a recent Friday night at Centennial Hall they were about to find out who would be taking home the trophy. Five teams made it to the finals: Ronald Reagan, Rufus King, Riverside, Messmer and the returning champions from Milwaukee High School of the Arts. (Listen to the piece with Darian below to find out who won.)
Slam is performed poetry - few poets are static on the stage. Performers are judged as much on the delivery of the piece as on the content of it. Each poet has about 3 minutes per piece - judged by 5 random members of the audience. For the City Finals the judges were not from any of the competing schools.
The Milwaukee High School Slam League came together as an extension of the burgeoning adult slam scene that began to pick up steam around here about 10 years ago. Poet and novelist Dasha Kelly is a big part of that scene and helped get the Milwaukee High School Slam League going.
She is founder and director of an organization called Still Waters Collective that, according to it’s website:
Has crafted a series of programs and community initiatives that use creative writing and spoken word as tools for building leadership and shaping self-esteem.
She started holding workshops at schools here and there and before she knew it, there was a thriving community of young adults doing slam poetry throughout the city. Dasha and the rest of Still Waters hope to attract more schools next year and continue to promote the power of the spoken word.
Listen to the three pieces below: one with Still Waters co-founder Dasha Kelly, slam coach Darian Wilson and one from the student poets themselves.
Plus, check out the video below to see Emmitt Williams, team captain from Ronald Reagan High School perform his piece in the final round of the competition.
Team Captains - Left to Right: Amy Pelican, Emmitt Williams, Jordan Gaines, Dorian Harrison and Jade Hendricks