The Growing Influence Of Slam Poetry In Herriman High


Slam poet and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Emi Mahmoud performs at the Sziget Festival in Hungary in 2019. László Mudra/Rockstar Photographers

Filing into a miniature theatre already packed to capacity, students fill the rows of staggered seats and dimmed lights with a buzz of chatter. flowing over the edge of the stage and around the art teacher’s old silver microphone, shining alone in a wash of warm light from the spotlights trained on its reflective surface, standing vacant and isolated in a crowd of teenagers. A lone student makes their way up the steps, papers in hand, and edges their way up to the microphone. The crowd’s hazy din of murmuring slows to a stop. The theatre is silent. The lone student, standing there atop the stage, breathes in, and begins to speak. 


The rules of a slam poem are simple: You are given three minutes, alone on the stage, with no props or costumes to aid you. The sole tool of expression left to you is your voice, left to string together a flow of words and rhythms to capture an audience and connect to them with your words. A slam poem doesn’t need to rhyme, and in fact, the only limitation is the rhythm you must set with your execution of the poem. You build a story with your words, drawing your audience in, creating an experience where anyone can feel and understand a piece of your life. 


Herriman High has a very active slam poetry club, competing at other schools, winning awards, and consistently working on new poems in after-school meetings or during the in-school Slam Poetry class. Students get the opportunity to learn how to critically examine their own work and improve their writing, while having the chance to win prizes at competitive Slams. This has helped a number of dedicated students help pay for college tuition after their graduation, as well as give them the confidence to move on to more challenging creative projects. 


While competition prizes and increased confidence are worthwhile and appealing aspects of the group, the priority of slam poetry is creative expression. The main purpose of high school slam poetry is to teach students emotional literacy— how to express yourself and your emotions in clear, healthy ways. Many slam poems will read like 2 a.m. rants, long, winding explanations of complicated emotions blended into a compelling retelling of a meaningful memory. The medium is designed to help let your thoughts out into the world clearly and without judgement, so you can sort through your experiences and learn from them. For teenagers who often haven’t learned to express themselves in healthy ways, it’s a life-changing hobby. 


The recent open-mic night that our Slam Poetry team held filled the theatre to bursting with interested students and first-time performers, eager to hear and perform pieces of work by new student poets. The influence of the spoken word continues to grow as more and more students discover the joy of experiencing a slam, or just maybe, being the main performer in one.