P&W-supported poet Tim Stafford is a poet and public school teacher from Chicago. He is the editor of the classroom poetry anthology Learn Then Burn (Write Bloody Publishing). You can find him onstage at the Encyclopedia Show, the Louder Than a Bomb Poetry Festival, and in June throughout Denmark, Sweden, and Germany. In December, Stafford taught a workshop at Team Englewood High School in Chicago and facilitated the Riots on the Warp Land slam. We asked him to blog about the experience.
To some, Team Englewood High School on Chicago’s South Side seems like an unlikely gathering spot for over one hundred young poets. Englewood is a neighborhood that many folks view negatively, even though a large number of them have never stepped foot inside. The Riots on the Warp Land poetry slam, now in its third year, was created to bring awareness to some of the great things that people who live and work on the South Side are doing.
The Riots on the Warp Land (the title is borrowed from South Side poet Gwendolyn Brooks) is a regional prelude to the Louder Than a Bomb Teen (LTAB) poetry slam festival, a citywide event that occurs every February. The two events share a similar goal: get kids from all over the city together in a safe space to create and share their own stories.
The event’s founders, Dave Stieber, Stephanie Stieber, and Melissa Hughes, invited me to facilitate some of the bouts and help out with the group writing workshop. All three of the founders are public school teachers who wanted to create more poetry-based community-building outside of the LTAB festival.
The event kicked off with an activity called “Crossing the Street,” in which kids on the fifteen teams split up into brand new groups. The groups got to work on prompts given by myself and teaching artists from Young Chicago Authors centering around identity, community, and neighborhoods. They created poems collaboratively. Before we started the actual “competition,” some groups presented their work to the crowd of about two hundred students and guests. The kids were familiar with the workshop model and were able to create some fascinating work despite the limited time.
As far as the slam itself, there were three preliminary bouts, with the winner going to finals. I won’t go into detail about who won or who scored the highest. I, the promoters, and Young Chicago Authors don’t place emphasis on the competition, and we tell the kids that from the get-go. Writing and interaction are our goals. Calling it a poetry slam is our gimmick to get kids and community excited about poetry, which is why slam was invented.
This is the second time I’ve been able to take part in this event, thanks to Poets & Writers. Seeing the progression in the quality of the written word from one year to the next is a humbling experience. The passion and attention to craft instilled by their teachers, coaches, and mentors is paying off in poetry that is mature beyond the years of its young writers. I look forward to seeing some of you next year at the fourth annual Riots on the Warp Lands.
Photos: Top: Tim Stafford. Bottom: The winning team is announced. Credit: Stephanie Stieber.
Support for Readings/Workshops events in Chicago is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from Poets & Writers' Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.