As trends go, high school poetry clubs are hot. Last weekend, 36 schools competed in the Louder Than a Bomb poetry competition at Nova Southeastern University, sponsored by Blue Apple Poetry and the Jason Taylor Foundation.
The Truth Spittahz of Miramar High School finished second in the team competition, but one of its poets, Desiray Baptiste, won first place in the individual contest.
"I really didn't have a voice until my 10th grade year when I found poetry," Desiray said. "I decided that I don't care anymore, it's time to tell my truth."
Her truth, she says, is that she and her mom suffered abuse at the hands of her father. She even considered suicide before leaving to live with her grandmother. Writing about her experiences, Desiray says, is cathartic.
"You treated her terribly, taught me that a man respecting a woman is a rarity so unrealistic that is a man wasn't sadistic he wasn't normal," Desiray said, performing her piece in staccato verses. "You taught me to put bruises where they don't show, and that wearing long sleeves in every season is fashionable but I couldn’t wear my heart on mine."
The team members meet several times a week after school, writing and practicing their poetry, and they judge each other as well, turning thumbs up or down on their teammates. Surviving that crucible hones their skills, says their teacher and coach, Vaneisha Clarington.
"When they're writing about their life stories, sometimes it's just mind-boggling because I couldn't imagine going through some of those things at this age," Clarington said.
The creative writing teacher says some of the Truth Spittahz write about poverty, depression, and abuse, and they also research current events as topics, such as the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
"We call it therapy, a therapy session, we've had students get up there, perform a piece, they're in tears as they finish it and what they don't realize is somebody else will come from the back of the room in tears, too, and say I thought I was the only one," Clarington said.
As you might expect, the theatrical nature of free-style poetry is similar to learning lines in a dramatical production. Several Truth Spittahz are also in their school's drama club. Clarington says poetry also helps students improve their writing.
"Definitely, because you're dealing with structure, you're dealing with being able to captivate your audience, you're dealing with being able to convey a message," Clarington said.
They get that message, and anyone who watches them will get theirs.
The Jason Taylor Foundation is paying the way for four teams from South Florida to go to Chicago to participate in the Louder Than a Bomb poetry festival this summer.
You can catch the teams in action in a special show on NBC 6 this Saturday, April 23, at 7 p.m.