The Plainfield East High School and John F. Kennedy Middle School poetry teams showcased their poetry skills during the Louder Than A Bomb (LTAB) Poetry Competition at Columbia College on February 29, 2020.
The LTAB annual event hosts more than 500 youth poets for five weeks of Olympic-style poetry bouts, workshops, and special events. Young poets perform original solo and group poems in a tournament-style competition.
Both District 202 teams include up to 10 students which compete against teams from 200 Chicago-area schools. JFK is one of the few middle schools to compete against high school-aged students, said JFK Poetry Club Coach Jennifer Gruca.
Each school competes against three other schools to advance to the quarterfinals, semifinals and then the final rounds. Participants are judged on the content of their piece, delivery and meeting the three-minute time requirement.
While the teams are there to compete, the event is “not about the points, it’s about the poetry,” said PEHS Poetry Club Coach Katherine Fairfield.
“It does not matter who wins the competition. The goal is to create an environment where competitors and audience members gain multiple perspectives by listening to the experiences of others,” Fairfield added.
The PEHS team won first place twice in the preliminary bouts, while JFK won second place in the first bout and third place in the second bout.
The competition changed to a virtual format after the preliminary rounds because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
JFK did not advance. PEHS moved to the quarterfinals but did not make it into the semifinal rounds. Still, Gruca said, it is more about what the students take away from the experience than it is about how they place.
“To join students from all different ages, from all over the Chicago area and find commonality is where our students find the magic of this competition,” Gruca said.
“Participants, no matter which school they are representing, encourage all speakers to share their story in an intimate and safe space where teenagers are finding their voices and sharing a part of themselves with the audience,” she said.
Fairfield also applauds the students for getting on stage and sharing their poetry, she said.
“It takes a lot of courage for my students to not only explore their emotions and experiences in the written form, but to also have the bravery to share their feelings with an audience in order to build a community,” Fairfield added.
Leading up to the competition, the PEHS and JFK poetry clubs meet every other week to learn about poetry, write poetry and practice performing their pieces.
During their meetings, students are exposed to a variety of online pieces, which helps them form ideas for their own poetry, Gruca said.
“Once they are exposed to spoken word poetry, they come up with their own topics and ideas and do incredible things,” Gruca added.
Throughout the year, the poetry clubs also invite poets to workshop with the students as well.
“The main goal is to expose students to artists who write, perform or create for a living,” Gruca said. “It inspires students to write, create and relate with Chicagoland people who are not too much different than themselves.”