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The Parker Weekly

The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

A Celebration of Joy

Parker Slam Poetry competes at the Rooted & Radical Youth Poetry Festival
Members of the Upper School Slam Poetry team competing at a bout.
Photo credit: Uma Morris
Members of the Upper School Slam Poetry team competing at a bout.

“While silence is my mother tongue, / It’s not my mother’s tongue,” junior and member of Francis W. Parker’s Slam Poetry team, Uma Morris, said, as she took to the stage of the Rooted & Radical Youth Poetry Festival. This is the opening to the poem that she has spent months writing, workshopping, and perfecting, and is the poem that won her the All-Star award from the festival. 

The Rooted & Radical Youth Poetry Festival is a yearly event hosted by Young Chicago Authors in which more than 500 youth poets participate in four weeks of showcases, workshops, and special events. The kickoff event for the festival happened on February 10, followed by preliminary bouts from February 17 through March 3, then semi-finals on March 16, and lastly the finals showcase on March 22. 

Every year, the festival chooses a theme. This year, the theme is joy, which was inspired by the Ross Gay quote, “Joy is the mostly invisible, the underground union between us, you and me, which is, among other things, the great fact of our life and the lives of everyone.” 

The Upper School Slam Poetry Team meets every Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon, led by eighth grade English teacher David Fuder and former slam poet and alum Molly Kuhlman ‘09. To prepare for the Rooted & Radical Festival, which almost everyone from the Slam Poetry team competed in, the poets either gathered old pieces they had written and liked or wrote entirely new poems. “We then showed those pieces to our coaches, and they gave us suggestions on which ones were the best, most developed, and timed perfectly, since there is a three minute time limit to the poem you perform at Rooted & Radical,” junior and Slam Poetry team member Gabriel Vilus said. 

After choosing a poem, the competing poets began to workshop their poems with the help of their instructors and teammates. “I’ve had my poem since November, so it was a lot of rewriting, figuring out what worked, and finding the right length for the poem without it being too wordy,” freshman and member of the Slam Poetry team Beatrix Hirsch said. In the last week before Rooted & Radical, the competing poets had two meetings around 7 p.m. at Parker in the Drama Room where they performed their poems to practice saying them out loud. Finally, in March, the preliminary bouts were held. Poets went to the stage to read their poem and their work was voted on. 

The Rooted & Radical Festival is unique in that it creates a non-competitive environment by rethinking scoring and judging to empower its young participants and provide them with a community to share their stories. “The Rooted & Radical festival brands themselves as poetry without judgment, and I agree that that’s definitely what it is. You go there, you perform your poetry, and you get voted on, not by judges, but by the other poets there. It’s overall a very supportive environment and the whole experience is very magical to me in a way that other poetry competitions just aren’t,” Vilus said.

“You could read anything on that stage and people are clapping to support you,” Morris said. “They even have this thing where if you forget a line, or if you’re pausing or you mess up, everyone claps and cheers to support you, which is something I really enjoyed.” 

Of the competing poets, juniors Uma Morris and Gabriel Vilus, along with freshman Beatrix Hirsch won awards. Out of the 350 poets competing at the festival, the top 20 are voted as All-Star Poets, which Morris received. She then advanced to semi-finals, where the top four  were chosen. 

Vilus received the Jean Baptiste Point-DuSable Award, which highlights poems that speak on history and origin. “My poem was about how I found out that there was a slave owner in my family and how that impacted me,” Vilus said. “My grandparents’ house is the slave owner’s house, and I have a lot of good memories there, so the poem focused on how my thoughts on those memories completely changed once I found out that it was the house of a slave owner.”

Lastly, Hirsch got the Mild Sauce on the Side Award, which is an award for poets who showed their side of home in their poem. 

Standing on the stage, with the microphone in front of her, Hirsch recited the last few lines of her poem at the Finals Showcase for the Rooted & Radical Festival. “I am from the way I was taught to be / The way I have learned to act, // And I am also from the place I have never been / People I have yet to meet // I am from my past / And my future.”

Read the full award-winning poems here: Uma Morris and Beatrix Hirsch!

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About the Contributor
Saroya Ornelas Pagnucci
Saroya Ornelas Pagnucci, Online Editor
Saroya Ornelas Pagnucci is a senior and one of the Online Editors for “The Weekly.” When she is not managing the Weekly's website or writing informative articles for the Parker community, she is likely practicing cello, reading, playing volleyball, or at dance practice. Outside of "The Weekly," she is one of the heads of the Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS), the Director of Cross-Grade Communication for Student Government, a Berkowitz Committee Head, and also loves Model U.N, Debate Club, and FWPMUN!