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Gustavus Adolphus College held its first ever Slam Poetry Camp on June 24-30 as individuals traveled from places such as New York, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Omaha to attend the unique summer offering. Mankato Free Press reporter Amanda Dyslin visited the camp last week and authored this article in the newspaper’s Saturday, June 30 edition:
New, rare slam poetry camp nurtures young talent.
Hannalee Goldman is like a lot of girls in high school. She has issues with her body — or from her perspective, society at large seems to have issues with it.
Goldman, a senior from Cincinnati, is just better than most about expressing her frustration.
“I want to get rid of this stomach so I can buy dresses,” she begins her poem Thursday morning, infusing more and more sarcasm into each line. “Aim for that (size) zero because once you become nothing, we will care about you. … Don’t raise your voice; raise your breasts.”
Goldman is political, she’s articulate, she’s empowered by her own voice, and her words are making her audience of 10 other poets at Gustavus Adolphus College’s Beck Hall feel empowered, too. From an outsider’s perspective, Goldman could walk out these doors and onto a slam poetry stage right now.
But at this college-level Summer Slam Poetry Camp for high-schoolers, Goldman’s seasoned and decorated teachers have some constructive criticism.
“You need to be energetic or be still. You’re right in the middle,” says Indiana poet Adam Henze, curriculum director of the first-ever poetry camp at Gustavus. “And cut the small articles. The ‘the’s and ‘and’s.”
Minnesota poet Sierra DeMulder is the author of the award-winning book “The Bones Below.” She’s a “Women of the World Slem” finalist and was named best female poet at the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational in 2009, among other awards. DeMulder offers Goldman her advice, too — looking for “good” lines to cut because they take away from the great ones, pointing out words that give off the wrong image or feeling, wondering aloud if the poem’s ending is a bit ambiguous.
The feedback is invaluable to this small group of seven high-schoolers, ages 15-18, who have flown to Minnesota from all over the country to take part in this camp, which kicked off Sunday and ends today. Henze and another instructor, Matthew , said slam poetry camps like this are rare, which is why the students had to from as far away as New York.
The intensive course, which includes 14-hour days of poetry study, includes the 25-year history of the spoken word movement, extensive reading, analyzing performances, debating moral and ethical issues, writing, work-shopping and the opportunity to critique and be critiqued.
There’s also a marking component, Henze said, which are critical skills to learn to be successful commercially. Students get lessons on booking a tour, submitting manuscripts for publication, creating a chapbook or CD, and networking in the spoken word community.
Henze, assistant director of the forensics department of communication at the University of Indianapolis, said all of these lessons are rare for young poets to find in a traditional setting.
“This is the only (camp) out there,” Henze said. “What’s interesting about slam poetry is it’s always been really underground, and it’s always been really grass roots.”
But despite its organic and personal nature, DeMulder pointed out that slam poetry is an art form with structure, intent and rules — cadence, syllable counts, poetic devices, etc. — and those rules have to be learned to be great.
The camp has been in the works since late last year, Henze said, but a lack of marketing funds resulted in a small pool of students this first session. Henze said he’d like to see as many as 200 young poets participate in future years.
Hernandez, who has been on HBO’s “Brave New Voices,” said the small group size has created a trusting and productive environment this week.
“This art form can be so personal, and in bigger groups, it can be hard to let that personal side come out,” he said.