Palliser poets shine on stage

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A Noble Central School student performs in the individual event of the Palliser school's first-ever Poetry Slam.

NOBLEFORD – Desiree Lamb still has some work ahead to sway fellow English teachers when it comes to the merits of slam poetry.

Noble Central School’s first-ever Poetry Slam lacked outside competition, but the Slam Marshal says it checked off all the other boxes.

The event – which sees poets perform original work alone or in teams before an audience and judges – provided The Noble Slammers another opportunity to hone their craft prior to provincials next spring in Calgary.

More importantly, however, Lamb says slam poetry offers is a vehicle for students to find “their voice, their place,” and take pride in who they are and what they do.

“It allows students to voice their concerns, to voice their issues, to voice their beliefs, to voice their experiences,” she says. “It’s about them. It’s not about the audience and it’s not about what is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable. In slam, everything is acceptable, except for hate.”

Slam poetry isn’t your grandma’s poetry.  It’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show and roller derby all wrapped up in one.

Twenty-eight high school students from Noble Central stepped up to the microphone, with topics of their choice ranging from a humorous take on fast food to animal rights and date rape.

Audience participation isn’t just permitted, it’s encouraged. Students were urged to snap their fingers to support poets who stumbled to find their next line, and also to voice their pleasure – or displeasure – with the marks handed out by a panel of outside judges.

One of the few parameters in place is the length of the performance, with a minimum of 90 seconds and a maximum of three minutes allowed. Those too brief or too wordy were greeted with a practised chant of “You dirty rat! You’re ruining it for everyone! But it was well worth it!”

The event was Makayla Wiebe’s first opportunity to perform slam poetry. Although she doesn’t normally suffer from stage fright, she admitted being nervous as she approached the microphone.

“While up there, my heart was practically palpitating but. . . the atmosphere is really cool,” says the Grade 9 student. “The audience was very supportive of the poets.”

Wiebe competed in both the individual and team events and found both have their benefits.

“The team poem wasn’t quite as nerve-wracking while I was up there because I had three other people with me. But the individual poem, I can write it exactly as I want it,” she says.

Kyle Gurr also performed in both disciplines but finds the team competition more rewarding. Not only does it offer the challenge of blending differing perspectives into one unified message, he also likes the support provided by teammates.

Although he’s no stranger to public speaking thanks to his involvement with his 4-H club, the veteran of two provincials says slam poetry leaves the performer feeling much more vulnerable.

“The first time I actually did a slam poem up on stage there was a tree and a pot behind me, and I remember saying, ‘it’s a good thing it’s there because I’m so nervous I might puke,” says Gurr, who only started rehearsing the night before the the Palliser school’s competition. “The confidence builds really fast.”

Lamb has seen how much her students have grown personally in the past couple of years and says their talents only improve through hearing others perform. That’s why she put out an invitation to other schools from across southern Alberta to join in Noble Central’s first Poetry Slam.

While she got a few nibbles this time, Noble Central remains the only school in the area doing slam poetry. Lamb hasn’t given up, and plans on hosting a session at the next teachers’ convention in that light.

Gurr is quick to throw his support behind his teacher’s efforts.

“It’s a great experience and I think it would be amazing for other students to come, possibly make new friends, and get a chance to express their emotions up on stage,” he says.