Having run poetry and other events in Omaha for 16 years now, what culminated in a teen poetry slam on Friday, April 20 is the biggest thing I have ever done in this community. By a lot.
Those of you who know me know this means a ton (as, hey, I’ve run a Poetry Slam for ten years, 4 editions of the Great Plains Poetry Pile-Up which brings in dozens of nationally recognized performance poets, various reading series, the Nebraska Book Festival, hell, I even did the Tromaha Film Festival some years back!). At the Finals Friday night at Creighton, 4 teams battled their hearts out in a poetry performance competition that had crowd reaction more akin to a Husker game than the stereotypical poetry reading. It was, in all ways, amazing. But there wasn’t a media presence. Which I don’t blame anyone for, this isn’t a letter of complaint, I just want you to know:
-It was more than a “competition,” it was about bringing schools and communities together. Teams from 4 high schools competed, but after, say, a student from Duchesne read a poem, the students from Lincoln High were cheering just as loud as ANYONE in the room. Prep was shouting for Bellevue West. Dogs and cats laying down together, it was crazy. These students were in competition but also supporting one another in a way you will not see with any regular sport or school event. Leading up to the week of competition were months of writing and working with teaching artist coaches and events which brought the different schools together.
-The event packed the Harper Center auditorium on Creighton’s campus.
-We had support from some of Omaha’s biggest funders: The Weitz Family Foundation, Paul and Annette Smith, and others.
-It had “Poetry” in the description but still had half the crowd shouting themselves hoarse as Duchesne Academy squeaked out a victory by the smallest possible margin (by 1 tenth of a point, scoring 142.0 to Bellevue West’s 141.9, Lincoln High’s 141.1 and Creighton Prep’s 139.7).
In short, this whole thing is a community builder and we want to get it going even stronger for next year but will struggle with that if the word doesn’t get out. Students in this program have said it changed their lives, parents who were there Friday night were shocked that they’d come to their kid’s poetry event and found themselves loving it, it was stunning.