Middle school students give slamming performances of their own poetry

North Ridgeville

By Michael Fitzpatrick

A duo of North Ridgeville Middle School language arts teachers put a different spin on presenting poetry to their eighth-grade students.

The results were slamming, as in a poetry slam.

Teacher Joe Post floated the idea of the eighth-graders having their own Mega Slam to his teaching partner Claire Conley, a self-admitted lover of good prose.

Post came to her with a question: “How are we going to get them excited about poetry?”
Then he laid his idea on her.

“Why don’t we try something a little different and outside of the box?’” Conley recalled Post asking.

The two agreed on a slam. They researched the topic by going to the internet, watched a couple of slams on YouTube and never looked back.

The brainchild of poet Marc Smith, poetry slams started in 1984 at a Chicago bar named The Get Me High. It was there that poets would get together and read original works, which were then scored by judges.

Today, slams are conducted worldwide in bars, coffee houses and just about any other venue where one can slog their chapbook.

The students worked in groups to create their own poems. The parameters of the project mandated students use poetic devices and incorporate movement into their presentation.

Enthusiasm for the project with the students started slowly, said Conley.

“They were very apprehensive at first. They weren’t sure (and) they didn’t really like poetry at first. Then they got into it and they started practicing, and then by this week, when they found out who was going to the Mega Slam, they were just crazy. They were so excited about all of this.”

Students in the class selected the six best poems from each section. Those groups, as well as individuals (some performed solo), performed their pieces on a small stage inside the Middle School’s library/media center to an audience of fellow students.

Poem topics ran the gamut from one girl’s dreams of becoming a doctor to a group’s take on equality and race. Another group’s idea was a perfect day at the beach and there was even a riff on Matthew McConaughey.

The idea for the poem on McConaughey popped off the synapses of Adam Menser, an earnest young man with sandy brown hair.

Entitled “Matthew McConaughey Comes to the School,” Menser’s piece skewers the celebrity culture and its excesses. It starts out with Menser sitting in class staring out the window where he spots paparazzi swarming around a limo and none other than McConaughey emerges from the vehicle wearing $30,000 shoes and sunglasses.

At one point the school’s principal asks McConaughey what brought him to school and the Hollywood star doesn’t even know. Eventually he listens to Menser read a poem about him and the star of blockbusters such as “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Dallas Buyers Club” gives it his full endorsement.

“I like it more than my brothers,” McConaughey says.

Attired for his reading in a black shirt, black sweatpants and a red paisley tie, Menser ripped his poem in two and tossed it the air when finished.

Asked about his outfit afterward, he cited Billie Joe Armstrong, the front man for the group Green Day, as his sartorial inspiration.

His inspiration for the piece: What he perceives as McConaughey’s often bizarre behavior.

“I was watching some Matthew McConaughey movies and figuring out he was pretty insane, and I thought it would be funny to write about him,” he said.

Not usually one who writes often, Menser said it took him all of 10 minutes to write the piece, which used a lot of rhyming. Writing the piece came easy to him, he said, because he didn’t feel constricted in writing it as he often does in other classes.

“This was fun because I could do what I wanted to do and not have specific rules with it. But when I do have to have specific rules, I don’t enjoy it,” Menser said.

Menser is the son of Joe and Kim Menser.

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