April is Poetry Month, and just before Spring Break, Evanston Township High School held its 14th annual Poetry Week. More than half of the students participated in the week’s events, which kicked off with performances by poets Adam Gottlieb, Parneshia Jones, the ETHS Poetry Slam Team and Kuumba Lynx. Mr. Gottlieb and Northwestern University colleagues Ms. Jones, an ETHS alumna, and Rachel Jamison Webster held writing workshops in the days leading up to the April 2 open mic session.
During the two-and-one half hour open mic session, held in ETHS’s Michael Resource Center at ETHS, 29 students recited either their own poetry or a poem they had selected. The open-mic sessions took place over the three lunch periods, and approximately 500 students attended.
The poets were passionate and the content, powerful, touching on personal lives and broader philosophical and social issues. They talked about violence, oppression, racism, sexual expectations and exploitation. The poets also told how advertising and the media create fashion and images of bodies that diminish youth’s self-esteem; they pointed out the impact of exams on self-esteem; and they covered many other social and social justice issues.
Three groups of students attended the open mic sessions during three lunch periods. In all an estimated 500 students attended – and they all appeared enthusiastic.
Mr. Gottlieb, who emceed the open mic session, said, “This is one of the dopest programs I’ve ever seen.” He told the RoundTable youth voices are important for two reasons. First, he said, youth tend to be more honest, and they express themselves in a way that is true to themselves. “That’s desperately needed for society,” he said.
Second, he said, youth have a tendency to approach things with a fresh view and an open mind. “They have an intuitive understanding of society that I think is urgent for adults to listen to and consider,” he said.
Nancy Figel, an ETHS librarian and an organizer of the event, said, “Poetry speaks to a lot of people that other genres don’t, and it gives people who don’t feel comfortable with other forms of self-expression some way to express how they think and how they feel.
“And with the encouragement of Adam Gottlieb, the writing workshops, the open mic at the beginning of the week, the performing poets and the participation of Parneshia Jones and Rachel Webster from Northwestern University, more kids get a chance to see what they could do with poetry.”
“I feel like open mic is a culmination of our poetry week,” said Shari Iverson, ETHS instructional and information technology specialist, said, “Open mic is like a sacred place. We get to hear what the kids are experiencing in their lives. Sometimes its art, sometimes it’s just spoken word, sometimes it’s raw, but it’s what they want to say, it’s their platform. It’s an important way we can share what’s in their hearts, what’s in their lives, what their lives are like. We feel very honored to hear it.”