Over winter 2016, SLQ and the Queensland Poetry Festival partnered to deliver SlammED!, a series of slam poetry workshops and heats. The workshops were facilitated by a range of professional poets based in Queensland. Ten schools across Queensland held workshops and slam heats, and in total over 150 high school students participated in the SlammEd workshops.
Through the workshops, the participants learnt poetry writing skills and performance skills. It was striking to see that the students found the writing process very cathartic, many of them using the experience to explore deeply personal issues. The issues explored by the participants were wide and varied, from climate change to poverty. Other students used the poetry workshops to process deeply traumatic events such as a recent murder, abuse within their family and issues of sexual orientation. On many occasions observing these workshops and poetry heats, I was overcome with that ‘goose bump’ sensation or a pang of emotion, realising some of the heavy issues that young people face. I was also overcome with a sense of admiration for the bravery of these students, to feel safe enough within the intimate workshop setting to express such deeply personal topics. The workshops also exposed to me that slam poetry was a very accessible form of writing that everyday students could use as a tool to heal and express their life experiences.
From the SlammED! school-based workshops, the top two students from each school were invited to participate in a masterclass at The Edge at SLQ. Over the course of the day-long masterclass workshop, it was uplifting to see the students develop more confidence to perform their work as they built a tool bag of skills to draw on for their poetry slam performance. The students became more bonded from each school as they connected with their intimately personal stories shared within their poetry.
On Saturday 27 August 2016 I had the pleasure of attending the SlammEd final, held at the Judith Wright Centre Performance Space. I was delegated the job of being a judge for the final; however, picking a slam poetry winner felt a little irrelevant after experiencing the cathartic crafting process for these poetry pieces. Nevertheless, it was fantastic to see the students present their work in such a professional performance setting. Many of the participants had refined their poetry for the event, or taken a gamble on a new piece for the competition. The honed performance skills enabled the poets to perform their pieces with conviction and emotion and definitely evoked a few tears in the crowd.
I have developed a real appreciation for this style of writing over the course of the project and have witnessed first-hand the social and emotional benefits it can have for young people.