Poetry Slam at Emerson Elementary

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by PVF’s Program and Communications Associate, Cayman Bentley

PVF’s Cayman Bentley attended a poetry slam at Emerson Elementary in North Oakland, led by former Emerson teacher, Mia Boykin. Boykin is a multidisciplinary artist and poet from California. She holds an MA in literature from Mills College and is currently, a doctoral student in the Creative/Critical PhD at UC Santa Cruz. Before beginning her PhD, Mia taught 2nd grade at Emerson Elementary and since leaving, she returns every year to put on a poetry slam, in which students write poetry to then perform in front of their fellow classmates. Her intention is to allow the students to use the poetry slam and the poetry writing process as an outlet for creative and emotional expression. The poetry slam was also curated in part by Josie Sommers, a Special Education Teacher at Emerson.


10 students were chosen by their fellow classmates to read their poems aloud in the school’s courtyard, which Mia and Josie turned into a performance space. The students poetry easily grabbed the attention of their fellow classmates. It was interesting to see how 4th grade students were able to write poetry so easily based on things they notice in their everyday life. Kameron, a student in Ms. Hannah Galvin’s class, wrote a poem about his love of fruits. “Fruits are good, Just like Red Riding Hood. Just like an apple, just like Snapple” writes Kameron. Another student, Soreniti, from Ms. Sierra Balatan’s class, wrote about cats and rats. “The cat in the hat and the rat, chasing until they sat,” she writes. Kamron and Soreniti’s poems were chosen by their classmates as the 2 most creative poems and were met with applause from students and teachers alike.

Not only were the students given the opportunity to creatively express themselves, the poetry was also a public speaking exercise, designed to help the students feel more comfortable with speaking and expressing themselves in front of their peers. When asked about why she returns to Emerson every year to put on this poetry slam and if she’ll continue, Mia answers “Many of the students don’t have this creative or emotional outlet in their home lives and a school sanctioned poetry slam gives the kids a way to learn about literature and writing in a way that fun and exciting. I’ll return to do this for the students as long as the school will have me.”

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