Poetry is a slam dunk for Grade 9

Grade 9 students ended the year learning to read, analyze, and write poetry, culminating in a grade level “poetry slam” contest that brought out the entire grade for pizza, poems, and praise for their classmates. 

A “slam” is poetry that combines elements of writing, competition, performance, and audience participation. The students voted on the winner, James Schmitt ’27 who took inspiration from and wrote about his favorite basketball player, LeBron James.  

“It was really cool seeing all my friends and fellow students clapping for me and telling me how good I was,” Schmitt said. “I loved the energy in the room.” 

The slam was the brainchild of Grade 9 English Teacher Dan Moorin, who believed a capstone event for the poetry unit would be a fitting way for the students to not only practice public speaking and write original poems but also create a sense of community around the “coolness factor” of poetry itself.  

“We are creating culture in its simplest form because they have to stand in front of each other and speak from the heart,” Moorin said of the contest, which featured nine poets, one for each Grade 9 class. “It shows them that there is something there that they didn’t realize – a shared space around the written word.” 

“You could tell when they reacted with loud ‘hmms’ that they related to what was being said,” Grade 9 English Teacher Tom DiChiara added. “It was essentially, ‘I get what you are saying, I take it in through the lens of my own experience, and I connect with a universal, relatable emotion or truth in the poem.”  

Schmitt agreed that the study of poetry and the slam had the desired effect. “It definitely got me more interested in poetry,” he said. “In the past, I wasn’t very interested, and now I’m trying to learn more about it.” 

The students wrote personal reflections, original poems, and created a zine (or booklet) as part of the unit exploring work from classic poets such as William Wordsworth to the 2017 National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman.  

“Poetry is an accessible way for students to observe the world around them and write about what they see and feel,” said Grade 9 English Teacher Meredith Josef. "The students are a bit skeptical initially. But we enter that universe in several ways: taking a walking tour around campus, reflecting on an uncomfortable moment in their lives, and writing about a societal issue. Their experiences and beliefs guide their words, which empowers them to find their voice.” 

In several assignments in preparation for the slam, students were asked to draft an original poem with at least ten lines and at least one poetic device like hyperbole, onomatopoeia, or repetition. “It could be about anything and was really a super creative writing assignment. I used a lot of alliteration,” Schmitt said. “And the rhyming scheme really got the crowd excited." 

Second place went to Kevin Cody for his poem, “Mr. DiChiara’s Block G,” and Ewan Davis finished third for his poem, “Bubbles under the Dome.” Other poets selected for the slam included: Alexander Ling, Chip Chiperfield, Mac Imperatore, Jack Mearns, Rahim Noor, and Tripp Silva.  

Moorin commissioned a design for the cover of the poetry booklet from Yanni Tiimob ’24 and enlisted Upper School Librarian Dartha Dragnich to design the booklet, which will be shared with the participants. English Department Chair David Smith provided support for the initiative, and the hope is that the slam becomes an annual event, Moorin said.  

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