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Poetry slams bring communities together for competitive arts

Posted on March 5, 2019 at 6:00 am

Artwork from Valley Slam poster artwork by Victoria Coronado, EWU Visual Communication Design student. 

BY DANA MANNINO

Feeling blah? Consider attending a poetry competition—or three.

The 2nd Annual Valley Slam takes place on Wednesday, March 20, at 6:30pm in the University High School Auditorium (12420 E 32nd Ave, Spokane Valley), where students from Central Valley, Mica Peak, and University High Schools compete for cash prizes provided by the Friends of the Otis Orchards and Spokane Valley Libraries.

The 4th Annual Northern Slam takes place on Thursday, March 21, at 6:30pm in the Riverside High School Multipurpose Room (4120 E Deer Park Milan Rd, Chattaroy), where students from Deer Park, Lakeside, and Riverside High Schools compete for cash prizes provided by the Friends of the Deer Park Library.

Now in its second year, the Valley Slam came about partly through the initiative of a University High School student interning at The Studio at Spokane Valley Library. The 2nd annual Northern Slam had just taken place and the Library District had filmed it. While editing the video footage, the intern realized that her classmates would enjoy a similar event. She brought the idea to library staff and the Valley Slam was born!

If you’ve never attended a high school poetry slam, let me tell you, it is electrifying.

Last year, I judged University High School’s Titan Slam. I expected to meet a handful of die-hard poetry fans. Instead, I found myself in a packed auditorium listening to 23 students from every social circle imaginable. The audience enthusiastically expressed support with traditional finger snapping and hand rubbing. Boos were reserved for judges (like me) who gave out low scores. I’ve never felt so alive.

“What I love about the culture of slam poetry is that it’s so supportive of the poets. Everyone is rooting for them to succeed. Although they are on stage in front of hundreds of people, talking about something that is often very personal, it’s actually a very safe space.”

Northern Slam founder and librarian, Amber Williams

Slams also generate project learning opportunities for students. Here are just a few:  

  • Student Leadership team at Central Valley High School organized their school’s qualifying slam.
  • The design for T-shirts and posters for the slams is chosen through a competition among students enrolled in Eastern Washington University’s Visual Communication Design program. (Congratulations to Victoria Coronado for her 2019 winning designs.)
  • Slams are timed so that students can practice as they perform, and before competing in the teen slam at the Get Lit! Festival.

The poetry slams and these learning opportunities are great examples of how the Library District accomplishes its mission to provide resources, experiences, and places that empower people to learn, explore, and succeed.

This year we’re adding a new slam to the mix. The top poets from the Valley Slam are eligible to compete against students from the North Slam at the Valley vs. Northern Grand Slam on Wednesday, April 10, at 6:30pm in Gonzaga’s Hemmingson Auditorium (702 E Desmet Ave).

Here is a recap of these upcoming poetry slams:

2nd Annual Valley Slam
UNIVERSITY HIGH SCHOOL AUDITORIUM
12420 E 32nd Ave, Spokane Valley
Wednesday, March 20, 6:30–8:30pm

4th Annual Northern Slam
RIVERSIDE HIGH SCHOOL MULTIPURPOSE ROOM
4120 E Deer Park Milan Rd, Chattaroy
Thursday, March 21, 6:30–8:30pm

Northern vs. Valley Grand Slam
HEMMINGSON AUDITORIUM, GONZAGA
702 E Desmet Ave, Spokane
Wednesday, April 10, 6:30–8:30pm

So if winter is getting you down, come join a crowd of students in displaying ESPN-level enthusiasm for their classmates’ original poetry. See you at the slams!

Dana Mannino

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