Poetry Night with Danez Smith and Franny Choi

Yesterday evening, I attended a slam poetry performance featuring high school students (+ one middle school student), teachers, mentors, and published guest poets. My poet friend had invited me the day before, convincing me to go despite not knowing how to properly snap my fingers. It was a fun night — the intimacy between stage and seats, poet and audience, teenagers and adults. I heard stories about college applications, sexuality, trauma, racism, and, more lightheartedly, carrying a pocket full of rocks to the National Archives. Jeff Kass, long-time teacher at Pioneer High School and one of the MCs for that evening, helped organize the event. It’s inspiring to see his efforts creating future poets, writers, and artists.

Performances by big-named writers also livened up the evening. Danez Smith’s energy and rhythm drew consistent cheers and snaps. Franny Choi embodied honesty and ferocity. Below, I’ll link some of the pieces they read. Lots of them are pretty well-known on Youtube.

Today, I still battle that fear of publicity and performance for my pieces. On top of the gnawing sense that I’ll never be good enough, I (and I would assume everybody else) can’t handle the thought of verbally stumbling on the stage. Some of the students were shaking, some were coming up to the stage to announce this was their first time, and some were laughing at their own stutters. We clapped and cheered with them. Not out of pity, but out of this sense of shared emotions, recognizing the same hopes and fears and ideals in the fifteen-year-old dreamers on stage that we still see in ourselves.

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