South High brings the beat

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December 12th, 2011

Omaha, NE – As Omaha prepares for its own city-wide slam poetry contest next year, Omaha South High School students competed for a spot in the final round, sharing stories of their lives, loves and frustrations.

A loud and boisterous crowd of a couple hundred students filled the auditorium at Omaha South High School on Friday, whistling and applauding as their peers, and friends, performed their poetry on stage. Standing before a microphone, the poets stepped up one by one to read, rap, and holler their words.

Marissa G. performed before hundreds of students, and came in second place at Omaha South High School's slam contest Friday, Dec. 9. (Photo by Robyn Wisch)

“Murdering your brothers…

Fighting for something that doesn’t even belong to you…

Hoods, property, land…

Ancestors being ignored, history forgotten…

Dead bodies lying on the floor, rotting in front of their own kids.”

That’s a piece of a poem, performed by Daylonika Hudson, a senior at South High. Hudson looked comfortable on stage, and said she’s been writing poetry for as long as she can remember. “It’s my life,” she said. “I’ve always been unheard, and I feel like people can hear me when I write.”

Hudson said her poem was about the frustration of watching kids her own age fall to gangs, shootings and violence. It was also about dealing with problems at home, she said, including watching her mother, who’s been sick. Writing about it, she said, helps her find solace.

“I’ve been through a lot,” Hudson said. “And a lot of people don’t understand me, and they may not want to listen to me. So when I write, I feel like all I have is paper sometimes. And that’s the only thing that can understand me is my notebook.”

From left, Carol Kloss McClellan, Principal Cara Riggs, 3rd place winner, JaTaun P. and 1st place winner, Ivan R. (Photo provided by OPS)

After the contest, the students headed back to class, where their English teacher, Carol Kloss McClellan, greeted them with praise. “You made me proud, thank you so much,” she said. “You got up there and performed.”

McClellan helped organize the slam with the help of the Nebraska Writer’s Collective’s guru of slam poetry: Matt Mason. The contest will culminate in a city-wide poetry slam modeled after the Chicago-based competition documented in the film Louder than a Bomb.

“So next thing you know we’re doing this slam,” McClellan said. “And these kids are coming up with all this incredibly creative stuff, and their performances are just fantastic.”

McClellan said she’s been working with her students since August, and they’ve been writing every day.
“They have lived some lives,” she said. “I mean more than most adults have lived before, so it all comes out. And it seems like it’s a good process, you know sometimes there’s some tears shed… It seems like a very cleansing, healthy thing for them to be doing.”

The students were judged – in typical slam style – by randomly selected people in the audience. The three highest scorers will advance to the next round, as they make their way to the city-wide slam that’s planned for the spring.

2 Responses

  1. Andrew Ek says:

    To learn more about the Nebraska Writers Collective, or to contact them (in hopes of, say, bringing a poetry slam to your school), head over to http://www.newriters.org.

  2. Matt Mason says:

    The students did a fantastic job! The Nebraska Writers Collective is looking for interested high schools for Louder Than a Bomb: Omaha which will happen this coming April. Schools will just need to gather a team of 4 or more students and we will help with coaching and prep as well as have workshops available to all the teams. Students and teachers are welcome to contact us, our website is at newriters.org.

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