Empowering Voices that Filled an Auditorium: The Annual NEHS Poetry Slam!

Valerie Questell, News Editor

   As the lights dimmed, the crowd tensed, and the three chairs next to the Library Auditorium’s stage filled with contestants. The stage lights shined as bright as the contestants’ nervous smiles as each took turns stepping on stage. The aroma of coffee filled the air, and the projected brick wall added to the coffeehouse ambiance that the Pines Charter National English Honor Society Board aimed to emulate as they planned the event. 

   “I will not go, so fly further into the sky,” Poetry Slam participant, senior Natalia Montgomery, says to finish up her Ekphrastic Poem on City Gate of Paris by Grant Wood, written by Montgomery herself. The crowd clapped and cheered. 

   “I will live my life. True in my way,” senior Isabelle Lake said as she shared her heartfelt and empowering story on living an LGBTQ+ life. Her mother, a PPCES art teacher, was the perfect addition to the excitement in the crowd as she proudly wore a rainbow t-shirt. Lake finishes her Villanelle, “Don’t Say,” with a courageous ending: “And now I can finally say: I’m gay!”

   On the other hand, senior Jovan Alfonso took the opportunity to add comedic relief to the heartfelt environment. After reading his parody poem “Oh the places you should have went,” Alfonso ties his poem together with the final line: “I came here for extra credit, and said nothing to you.” The crowd went wild as Alfonso took this unexpected turn. 

   Another aspect of the Poetry Slam was the Poem for Two Voices category. Seniors Mallory Brown and Anjali Balla read Mallory’s original poem “Our Earth,” a dystopian take on climate change and environmental issues. Their simultaneously-spoken verses lit up the room with anticipation, “The Moon gleaming brightly in the dark sky,” says Brown; however, Balla follows with an unexpected twist. “Stars reaching through the polluted atmosphere.”

   In the midst of the Poetry Slam, PPCHS’s Poetry Out Loud contest, which commenced at NEHS’s Recite Night in November, continued with the top 10 contestants advancing to the second round at the Slam. These finalists recited a second poem to determine which one would advance to the state competition: the Poetry Out Loud State Finals for Florida

   NEHS Treasurer, junior Shivraj Singh, sat in the front row, gripping his phone tightly as he profusely recited his poem in his head. “Over, not on,” he corrects himself. Although Singh spent months memorizing “Playthings,” a poem by Rabindranath Tagore, nerves and excitement crept into his mind. “Although I am really nervous given the large crowd, as an NEHS officer, I am most excited about how many people are here, supporting NEHS,” Singh said only minutes before he recited the poem. 

   Audience member and senior Jorge Muñoz reflected on his Poetry Slam performance last year as he watched his friends and peers recite their pieces. “I enjoy this experience and artistic expression. I wanted to come as a spectator to see people express themselves,” Muñoz says. “I think it’s important that [PPCHS] students have the ability to express themselves, and poetry is such a great way to do that.” 

   Of course, the performances weren’t the only form of entertainment, as the NEHS Board and members provided the audience with an assortment of cookies and coffee. 

   The Poetry Slam has been around for eight years and isn’t going anywhere. Ms. Sarah Phelps, who has been in charge of this event since its inception, successfully orchestrated it once again along with the Pines Charter NEHS Board. In addition, PPCHS alumna Ara Johnson served as a judge for the Poetry Out Loud recitations this year, along with Ms. Sunshine Phelps, Ms. Taylor, and Ms. Schwab. The 2023 NEHS Poetry Slam was a success and will continue to be a powerful voice for students.