Hickman poets reveal personal stories at annual poetry slam

Monday, December 19, 2011 | 6:00 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA­­ — When T.I. Atkins recited his poem, "Chromosaturation," in front of his peers, he called it personal therapy.

He cloaked his message in metaphors and other creative writing techniques. Only his friends knew it was about the death of his mother when he was in the sixth grade.


All that is begins to end,

between women and men,

strangers to friends,

in thousands hundreds or tens,

and where have you been? I need you.

— "Chromosaturation," T.I. Watkins

Claudia Sipakati wrote a poem about how she and her sister have grown and learned from their mistakes.

Atkins and Sipakati, seniors at Hickman High School, participated in the school's annual December poetry slam.

Diana Rahm, adviser for Hickman's Poetry Society, is the brainchild behind the slam.

"It's my baby," Rahm said.

This is the slam's ninth year at Hickman; another is held in April to celebrate National Poetry Month.

Rahm learned about high school poetry slams after attending a conference in 1999 in Cincinnati. She also became aware of Marc Kelly Smith, a Chicago construction worker known as the founder of the poetry slam movement.

Standardized test scores among Chicago students were reportedly rising because of participation in poetry slams, and Rahn decided to introduce it at Hickman.

Rahm said she notices a cross-section of people at the poetry slams, where students from different socio-economic class, race and teen cliques come to perform.

This diversity is based, in part, on the outlet Atkins and Sipakati say the slams provide for creative writing.

"You go to school with these kids for three years, and you really don't know anything about them until you hear what they've written," Sipakati said.

Phillip Overeem, a British literature teacher and co-sponsor for the school's True/False Film Festival Youth Brigade, sees a different crossover and benefit from the poetry slam — a connection between the students' lives and the literature they are learning in the classroom.

"It boosts creativity and gives them a voice," Overeem said.

To motivate students to sign up for the slam and set the bar for those who had already signed up, he organized a screening of the film, "Louder Than a Bomb." About 80 students attended.

According to the film's website, the documentary follows high school poets in Chicago who work in teams to produce, critique and perform their work.

While strengthening one another and their communities, the students in the film are preparing themselves for the 2008 "Louder Than a Bomb" youth poetry event.  

Overeem also records each slam and posts them as podcasts on the high school website. He said the greatest aspect is seeing the growth in the work of slam veterans.

Sipikati, who insists that she does not like to perform her work, did say that her poems aren't as "stupid" as some of her previous writing

"I stopped trying to make everything rhyme," Sipikati said.

Atkins said he still gets nervous before a slam, but notices that he takes more risks in his writing by challenging himself to use more verbal puns than written ones.

"I'm pretty much proud of all my poems," Atkins said without a hint of arrogance. "Just because they're mine."

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