Young Poets Get Into A Jam

 Napaul Bacote, David Coardes and Teacher Paula Langlois from Fair Haven School. Judy Sirota Rosenthal Photos. Jacob Williams, the first poet mentioned, is pictured at the center of the tryptich below. 

Napaul Bacote, David Coardes and Teacher Paula Langlois from Fair Haven School. Judy Sirota Rosenthal Photos. Jacob Williams, the first poet mentioned, is pictured at the center of the tryptich below. 

Jacob Williams walked onto the stage with an air of confidence. Mic in hand, he kicked off the middle school performers with a rap. You could hear the passion in his voice and his heavy breathing from what seemed to be a combination of fast-paced lines and genuine emotion.

“I’ve been through so many things, I have no fears.
Abuse for eight years --

Yes.

I was abused and neglected,
traumatized and disrespected,
DCF never detected,
Like nothing was suspected."

Friday evening, Jacob was one of many poets showcasing his work at the sixth annual Citywide Middle School Poetry Jam, held at Co-op High School and hosted by The Word. Spearheaded by Aaron Jafferis, Hanifa Washington and Salwa Abdussabur, The Word is dedicated to giving young poets the tools and knowledge required to become better at their craft. 

For over an hour poets delivered packed literary punches, filled to the brim with their view of reality. Some were as young as fifth grade, but didn’t shy away from delving into the harsh parts of their lives.

“Inside of me, I just want to scream and cry, but I only could keep my feelings inside…” one poet began. “So scream with me if you have the same problem, just like me. I can forget the past, but can you?”

Later in the evening, a young poet named Nassir asked the audience to yell for him. Jafferis suggested that the audience take up the poet on his request, and the entire auditorium filled with screams. 

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Themes kept coming from the stage: bullying, abuse, crime, overcoming adversity and stepping outside of conformity. Some got really personal.

Two of the performers were so emotionally attached to their pieces that they couldn’t get through them without tears. One, a student named Faith, approached the stage bravely. As she began her piece, her voice wavered.

“I say to myself, my father is the worst. Talking about my mom, calling her names...”

Another student, Caleb, had a similar reaction. “Some nights, [my dad cries] and says, ‘Caleb, I want to see you grow up,’” he began.

They were so overcome during their respective poems that they had to stop and be consoled by teachers. The audience gave resounding applause of support in both cases. Faith started over and finished her piece, despite the pain she couldn’t hide from everyone, but Caleb couldn’t bear to go on with it.

 Edgewood teacher Naseem Senan with two students. 

Edgewood teacher Naseem Senan with two students. 

There was something beautifully unpolished about this show. Performers got scared, stuttered, forgot, started over and got emotional. They all tried, it seemed, to set aside their stage fright to share their stories, even if it required assistance of a friend to read it for them.

One girl had such bad stage fright that her friend read her piece as she stood on the sidelines. That wasn’t a problem, Jafferis said at the beginning of the show—there is nothing wrong with being nervous.

When all of the poets, teachers, guests and the hosts gathered on stage to take pictures at the official end of the show, it was like watching a big family strung together by the powerful magic of writing.

It was impossible to not want to be a part of it.