In the midst of a coronavirus outbreak, Tri-Valley residents often feel trapped within their own homes, forced to confront the despair and the anxiety of a global pandemic on a day-to-day basis. Because citizens are separated by facial masks and closed doors, I wanted to find a way to bring the community together. As the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton, I hosted the city’s very first Poetry Slam — made virtual to protect the safety of our writers. The slam was open to all teenagers from the Tri-Valley, including both middle and high school. Students could compete in two different categories: original, where they share poems that they’ve written; and interpretive, where students perform/interpret work from a poet of their choice. These submissions were evaluated by an esteemed panel of judges: Ms. Constance Hanstedt, an award-winning poet and author from Tri-Valley Writers; Mr. Dave Wright, the Vice President and Treasurer of the Pleasanton Cultural Arts Council; and Ms. Deborah Grossman, a journalist and Poet Laureate Emerita of Pleasanton (2009-2011).
The event provided young poets with a platform to express themselves and get inspired by other writers. Our submission pool was a fusion of different age groups and backgrounds, as the slam attracted students from Dougherty Valley, Foothill, Amador, Cal High, Harvest Park, Diablo Valley, Quarry Lane, and Thomas Hart Middle School. Participants were also joined by the event’s virtual Guest of Honor: Teen Esteem, an organization dedicated to educating and empowering young people. Their positive message and respect for teen issues, such as addiction and abuse, made Teen Esteem a wonderful addition to the event. A slam offers a sense of community identity that is painfully necessary during these difficult times, as teenagers get a chance to be vulnerable and reflective in their writing. The judges were moved by the emotion and power of the submissions. Despite the diverse directions that the participants chose, I was really impressed by their rawness and transparency.
Being cornered at home takes its mental and physiological toll, and the best way to fight back is to channel emotion through a creative outlet. This poetry slam was a dream project of mine and I’m definitely grateful to have made it a reality. And I couldn’t have done it without the encouragement and support from the Pleasanton Cultural Arts Council ( who graciously sponsored the event ), Tri-Valley Writers, and my mentors from the City of Pleasanton — Ms. Julie Eseltine and Mr. Julian Mireles. After hosting the event this year, I hope the slam turns into a tradition for the years to come.
Curious about who won? For more information about the event, stay tuned for the Youtube video, which will showcase the submissions from each participant as well as the awards.