Students learn poetry in community workshop


Northeastern students and members of the nearby community gathered at Northeastern Crossing Friday for a workshop on slam poetry that was built around self-care and stress relief./Photo by Lauren Scornavacca

Paxtyn Merten

They were given 10 minutes to write a poem, prefaced with advice to write down what they felt: They couldn’t expect to write Shakespearean sonnets in 10 minutes, so they should just write whatever came to mind.

However, at the end of the 10 minutes, nearly half of the 20 students and Northeastern community members in the room performed original poetry. The poems, meant to praise their individual methods of self-care, ranged from drinking tea to taking a car ride home alone.

These poems were products of a slam poetry workshop held Friday afternoon at Northeastern Crossing. The workshop was held in order to build a strong community of slam poetry writers, said event facilitator Joely Barrios, a third-year communications studies and sociology combined major.

“The poems that people shared? If this event hadn’t happened, I don’t know if those poems would have been written,” said Barrios, who uses “they” pronouns. “As the person who’s facilitating, it’s just really exciting to me that people wrote something. […] The fact that folks who were like, ‘Oh, I don’t really do this much,’ who are math majors trying out humanities, I think it’s really beautiful.”

The workshop was one event in Northeastern University Writers’ Week. The week was sponsored by the English department, Writing Center, Northeastern Crossing, Humanities Center and ADVANCE Office for Faculty Development.

Northeastern University Writers’ Week ended Saturday with the event “One Day, One Goal” which included five hours of work time for Northeastern community members to get help on various writing projects. Other events included workshops for fiction, non-fiction, resume and cover letter writing.

The workshop’s theme was self-care. Before attendees began writing poems, Barrios introduced them to examples of praise poetry to provide inspiration. Barrios read “Ode to Shea Butter” by Angel Nafis, who performed the piece at Northeastern in September 2016.

The poem details Nafis’ daily use of shea butter and further describes the positive impact it has on her life. After Barrios read the poem aloud, attendees agreed that the poem transformed a simple day-to-day process into something greater, all while painting a powerful image of the strong black woman it depicts.

Workshop attendees then watched a video of slam poet Danez Smith performing his piece, “Twerking as a Radical Form of Healing,” which addresses the power of dance, particularly twerking, to free the mind. Workshop attendee Ye-Rin Jung, a freshman English major, said this poem was impactful because it took something seemingly frivolous and made it important.

“Healing can be found in all these different places and sources,” Jung said. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be from a doctor.”

Using the examples as inspiration, workshoppers got to work on their poems. For 10 minutes, the only sounds in the room were movements of pen on paper and fingers on keyboard as the attendees developed their unique ideas.

Several poems did not stick closely to the theme of praising a personal self-love routine, but instead touched on participants’ intimate feelings: One attendee shared a poem about the death of her son, and another about his experience with morals and religion.

Barrios said they were impressed by every poem that came out of the workshop.

“Everyone who shared, I was like, ‘Damn, that was really important and I’m really glad that it happened and […] I was here to bear witness to that,’” Barrios said. “It feels like an honor for strangers to talk about things that are really intimate to them and to normalize that in a way – that we can be real with one another and be intimate without having to be afraid that we’re going to be attacked or rejected.”

To close out the workshop, two members of Interrobang, Northeastern’s slam poetry team, performed for the group. The members, freshman electrical engineering major Rose Ajegwu and senior business administration major Sarah Mohamed, are two of the five members of Interrobang who will travel to Chicago for the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational in mid-April. Barrios will also compete in the invitational.

Ellen Noonan, one of the Writers’ Week organizers and an associate professor of English, said the slam poetry workshop was included in the week’s events because the world needs more art, particularly in the current political atmosphere. She said slam poetry provides an effective medium for both advocacy and healing.

“Slam is a way to be political, and to be personal, and, like I said, accessible,” Noonan said. “Sometimes in school, poetry is taught as something that an expert has the keys to, but now I think slam has done something that makes it much more democratic, that there don’t need to be any keys. It’s all doors.”

Jung, who attended the workshop because she is currently taking Noonan’s slam poetry course, said learning slam poetry this semester has given her the opportunity to reflect on and deal with darker times in her life.

“Slam is really helping me, especially dissecting my emotions and trying to find a way to express myself in a cohesive way,” she said. “It’s been very cathartic. Much cheaper than therapy, that’s what I like to say.”