The Ole Razzle Dazzle

East’s Slam Poetry team is back and better than ever. If you’re looking for a warm, welcoming environment full of laughter, courage, rhythm and phenomenal camaraderie, room 026 on Thursday afternoons is the place to be. This  coterie of young writers has been meeting since the beginning of the year to celebrate their love for the craft of creative writing, but the students began earnest practices and rehearsals in October to prepare for the annual Midwest poetry competition, Louder than a Bomb (LTAB)- Great Plains. The team placed first in their primary bouts in late March, reserving their spot in the LTAB Semifinals for the first time in East’s history.

East’s slam poets are Simon Nabb (12), Antonio Hamersky (12), Shealyn Warrick (11), Olivia Wirth (11), Kimberly Lambert (10), Avery Dutton (10), Alora Schneider (9), and Jingming Yu (9). They use their poems to express their emotions on topics such as standardized testing, society’s expectations, trauma, and isolation.

“I like to research stereotypes,” said first-year member Schneider. “I want my poetry to send the message: ‘It’s okay to be yourself, especially when others are pushing their expectations on you.’”

With the help of poetry coaches Celine Haynes and Riley Westerholt from the Nebraska Writers’ Collective, the students created, memorized, and adroitly delivered a multitude of poems. Many members have received more positive feedback on their individual poems than ever before. They enjoy performing because seeing the audience’s response to their work is encouraging. This year, they have had a strong focus on improving as poets, performers, and human beings.

Team meetings and practices are used to discuss ways to improve the delivery of their poems for future bouts. They review some past outstanding performances done by other students from competing schools as well their own to find parts that could be strengthened. They have a plethora of strong poems to choose from so everyone felt confident about progressing in the competition.

“We’ve been waiting for this [getting into semifinals] for three years,” said Warrick. “I’m done waiting.”

English and Creative Writing teacher Mr. Derek Funk has been working with these students for three years, being full sponsor for two. He’s been floored by the team’s growth and improvement from last year. “Our big goal this year was to advance to the semifinals [and] they have already done that in really impressive fashion,” he said. “Helping the team write poems, and being someone they can talk to about life’s difficulties and to be able to help them express themselves is an incredible feeling. I’m proud of every single one of my students, but the kids of the Slam team have a special place in my heart, because they’re all so brave. Just about every week I get to cry, either from laughter or from witnessing the courage of the kids I sponsor. “

East’s LTAB semifinal bout was held in Omaha at the Joslyn Art Center on April 16th. They skillfully placed first against Omaha South High School, Omaha North High School, and Schoo Middle School. The team has been more competitive than ever before, advancing to LTAB Finals in their first year of going to semifinals. On April 24th, they faced Omaha Westside High School, Omaha Northwest High School, and Lincoln High School. East placed fourth behind Westside with Omaha Northwest earning second and Lincoln High taking home the trophy for the third time.

Despite the low scores, it was not a loss. At each bout, poets are reminded that the points are not the point. The point is poetry. Putting numbers to an art form has never been fair. East was already proud to qualify for finals. Trophies are nice, but the greatest reward was being able to share and hear poetry that evoked emotion and shared a story.

The competition is over for the year, but all performances can be viewed on Youtube on a channel called Louder Than a Bomb Great Plains. There, you can find every poem from every single bout from the last seven years. They’re available so people can experience the power of poetry even if they aren’t able to physically attend the performances. Stay tuned next year for LTAB 2019!