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Spoken-word stars

Reading on stage to a crowd isn't for the faint of heart. These young poets boldly shared their verses and turned into spoken word artists.

“Blood. We need blood,” was the battle cry that came from Ari Zak and was mimicked by the other ST.A.R.K. agents in the atrium of Bellerose High School on Tuesday afternoon, calling for a poet to take the stage. The cry was answered when Dana Reid the Poet bravely stood in front of the gathering for her first reading ever.   

Within minutes, she had become an authentic and verified spoken word artist. It’s one thing to write down your thoughts, feelings, and observations in a literary form within the privacy and security of your home; it’s another thing entirely to stand at the microphone, take a deep breath, and read it aloud to a public audience.

The moment was a long time in the coming, and a welcome relief once it was all over.   

“We went online during COVID, and at the time, we were the only club in the whole school that was actually functioning. We were able to go online and still do our thing,” said Bellerose instructor Cassandra Kompf at the in-person gathering on May 10.  

She said the pandemic also provided the impetus for the poetry clubs of both schools to form a merger called St. Albert Rose Kane, or ST.A.R.K. for short.  

This was the first time the group of 12 could meet each other in person in the last two years. Having them finally come together — coupled with the poets’ triumphant performances — made the open mic event a celebratory though ultimately bittersweet one. As the fates would have it, it was also the last meeting of the school year, and several of the poets clearly wanted more.  

After Reid proved her mettle as a wordsmith and performer, the other club members joined her in victory: Sarah Gebre, Caitlin Cripps, Reilly Camp-Jensen, Tenaya Luchies, Sydney LeBlanc, Alayna Oakman, Rebekah Konrad, Hargun Bhathal, Seron Gebriel, Nadia Baxandall, and Brooklin Curran. 

Paul Kane instructor Karen May Healey was at Bellerose when she began that school’s slam poetry club with the help of Geoff Manderscheid of the St. Albert Public Library.   

“He was going to host a library event and he said, ‘Let’s do a poetry thing.’ We had a whole bunch of kids out; it was crazy. It just blossomed from that,” she said, noting her life-long connection with poetry began with her father, Joe May.   

“Poetry is not this elevated art form that’s for just the snobby kids who know how to pronounce polysyndeton,” she said. “It’s for everybody.”  

Polysyndeton, in case you were wondering, refers to the literary device for when a poet uses several co-ordinating conjunctions in succession for artistic effect.   

Before each poet starts their reading, they are applauded to the stage. The assembled members of the audience then raise their fists in the air and shout “Respect” to offer courage and reinforce the feeling of camaraderie in the crowd. The audience continued this laudation by snapping their fingers every time they heard a poetic phrase that worked well or meant something or otherwise. At the end, they are cheered off like heroes who have conquered an invisible foe.  

These are all keys to good poetry, Zak explained.  

The former alumnus of the Bellerose Slam Poetry Club and previous host of some of the club’s live-reading events said poetry coaching is mainly about constructive feedback. It’s not football with touchdowns and a scoreboard. It’s about finding success in getting the words out in a way that works best for the poet and the audience. 

“I found when I was in poetry club, the best feedback I got was from my peers. That’s how I felt that I kept getting better at poetry: all the feedback from all the people around me. Coaching is really an extension of being a part of the club. You just have a little bit more gravitas to the things you say,” said Zak.  

Belying the notion that poets are all introverted ruminants of hastily scribbled language, many of these fierce young free-versers were crossovers with their respective drama clubs. Being on stage, offering wisdom and entertainment through the arts, and commanding the attention of others is what they are all about.  

“I am a social creature,” said Bellerose student Nadia Baxandall, sounding like several other members of the club who also share their free time with the drama club. “I really like sharing my art with my friends and people who are also passionate about poetry.” 

She said ST.A.R.K. Poetry Club not only allows her that chance to share and connect with fellow poets, it also gives her the opportunity to grow through that feedback. 

“When I’m testing out new things, I always like to share it with other people to see what they think. I really like sharing once I’ve worked on it for so long. I’ve spent a month, two months, on a poem. I’ve really perfected it down. I really like sharing the fruits of my labours with my friends. I’m like, ‘Hey, I made this thing. I really like it, and I hope you like it, too.’” 


Scott Hayes

About the Author: Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns, and profiles on people.
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