By Greg Price
There will be a rarity featured at Vauxhall Middle/High School this Tuesday (Oct. 23), when world-renowned slam poet Harry Baker makes an appearance.
“Harry Baker has actually been to Barnwell before where they were able to organize it about three years ago. From there, the bug was already in our ear, and we got together with the school division and said if he’s willing to come out to rural Alberta, why don’t we put some resources together and ensure he can come out longer and see more schools,” said Keith Miller, an English teacher at Vauxhall High School. “He is doing a tour of a few schools in southern Alberta in the Horizon School Division. We are really excited, he’s an international star in the world of slam poetry. At one time, he was able to brag about having the best poem in the world.”
Baker’s accolades include being the 2010 London Slam Champion, 2011 UK and European Slam Champion and 2012 World Slam Champion.
A poetry slam is a competition in which poets perform spoken word poetry. Poetry slams began in Chicago in 1984 with its first competition designed to move poetry recitals from academia to a popular audience when American poet Marc Smith began experimenting with existing open microphone venues for poetry readings by making them competitive.
The performances at a poetry slam are judged by a panel of judges, typically five, and usually selected from the audience, or sometimes judged by audience response. The judges usually give each poem a score on a scale of 0–10 (zero being the worst and ten being the best). The highest and lowest scores are dropped and the middle three are kept. The highest score one can receive is 30 and the lowest is zero.
“Slam poetry is an interesting take on poetry. Where before you have an author writing poetry to be read and enjoyed, slam poetry takes it to the next level. It becomes a bit of a presenter, blending the world of writing and showmanship. The poem itself becomes a presentation, with pauses, there’s action, there’s moments where the presenter can read the crowd,” said Miller. “They are playing with what they are saying. It sort of makes poetry three dimensional.”
Baker’s appearance will be a boon to Vauxhall, where Miller adds often diverse options are not available to rural Alberta for students.
“It just goes to show you when you have a school division that really cares, you get these opportunities. You often think these opportunities are only available for the larger (urban) schools,” said Miller. “It’s another way of showing different interests. Slam poetry is one of those things where you talk about what you like, if you want to talk about the farming lifestyle you can. It gives you another venue to do that, as an English teacher, there’s nothing better than having other people passionate about this and willing to come and maybe inspire that one kid.”
Baker will be working with both elementary and middle/high school students during the day with slam poetry workshops, encouraging students to produce their own works. Baker will be presenting his slam poetry at 7 p.m. in the Vauxhall High School gymnasium on Oct. 23, with a couple of students also encouraged to present theirs from the workshops.
“He will be presenting some of his traditional pieces and some of his newer works. He will also be bringing his book ‘The Sunshine Kid’ which will be on display which is a collection of his works,” said Miller.