Sidibe’s Slam Session and More

Danny Stock

This week, let’s spin it back to last month’s Sidibé Slam Session to catch spoken word and slam poetry with High School English teacher Aisha Sidibe’s sophomore class. We’ll also share some of the great poems these students have produced during their poetry unit. 

NOTE: Student names and/or poems are clickable, allowing you to get a sample of their live slam performance or a written piece from class. We are honoring students’ wishes where they have elected to remain anonymous or not appear in this piece. Each of the pieces was honest, carefully crafted, often intensely personal—and impressive. 

The second gathering of Sidibe’s Slam Session for the week was attended by a mixed group of faculty and staff from across the school and featured a blend of guest performances, callback student spotlights, and many first-time slam and spoken word poets. Barely a week after learning about the poetic form, students crafted their own pieces and performed over Zoom both from home and from classrooms on campus. Sidibe kicked off the high-energy, early-morning session with a reading from Leila Jackson ’22 followed by two guest performances, one from Nuyorican poet and singer Rashawna and the second by Nuyorican poet and actor J. F. Seary. 
The first callback poet from the first session was Daniel Farber ’23, who performed his poem “Victory.” High School learning specialist Meredith Chase-Mitchell, who had attended the first session the previous day, declared, “The Sidibe Slam Session was such a real treat!...The guest poets were amazing, but the students were the ones who blew me away.” Daniel, Ben Carter ’23, and Lauren Petrilla ’23, all callbacks from the first session, carried forward some of what made the first session such a success.

Then, with a surprise guest appearance from his car while parked mid-commute, High School history teacher and spoken word poet Cliff Coates (Caleb ’31) delivered a powerful, rapid-fire rebuke of police brutality. The persistence of racism on both a national, systemic scale and the experience of racism on a direct interpersonal level fueled several other important—and courageous—poems delivered during the slam. Other poems addressed cultural appropriation, trauma, and sexual assault.

Ben performed his poem “If Only,” an introspective piece that captured, with wit and a teenage perspective, the very human tendency to yearn to be a better version of oneself. Christian Freeman ’23 performed his poem “raging against them” and asserted his right to claim—and reclaim—the planet and his own healthful future from those whose actions have enabled its ruination. Later in the session Izzy Auerswald ’23 performed a mood-lifting poem called “A Lucky Love,” an intricate, playful piece that managed to be both sweet and earnest.

Beyond this slam session, the students shared their ongoing exploration of various poetic forms, including the pointed remonstration of the Capitol insurrection in “Winter War Washington / Red on the Marble Steps” by anonymous, an interstellar metacognitive study in “The Heavens” by Lauren Petrilla ’23, a visit with rejuvenating dreams in “Dreaming for Eternity” by anonymous, a rejection of xenophobia in “Untitled” by Barbara Weaver ’23, and the eye-opening shape poem “Between the Lines” by anonymous.

The poetry unit has amplified the capacity of these sophomores to communicate clearly and powerfully and to direct attention onto what matters in their lives. Furthermore, the students who are focusing the spotlight on critical social issues are also not doing so in insolation: combined with a sense of purpose, advocacy orientation, and an ethical foundation, these poets have spoken truth to power. 

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