Beyond the Books: the power of poetry for Roosevelt students

Eighth grade Roosevelt Middle School students perform poetry at Brewhemia.

Snaps, claps, words and raps.

Brewhemia is a cafe for coffee connoisseurs, but recently the NewBo District hot spot became the backdrop for a poetry performance.

A few dozen eighth graders from Roosevelt Middle School stepped up to the microphone for a celebration of spoken word.

Poetry is part of the language arts curriculum in the Cedar Rapids Community School District, and teacher Brianna Young regularly faces skepticism about stanzas, pessimism about poems.

"So often, middle schoolers have a really negative association with poetry," said Young. "They think it's all, you know, old, dead, white dudes with beards, and they don't associate it with the music they listen or the way that they speak to each other as being poetry."

Young said this year's batch of students, like previous years, has struggled to embrace poetry, but added she wanted to expand the program for the students' benefit.

"In years past, I've done a poetry slam-type atmosphere in the classroom, but I really wanted to push this year to take it beyond and out into the community and share their voices with the community," said Young. "I really just want them to understand that their voices matter."

Mason Herron, who performed at Brewhemia, said he was nervous, but had a lot of fun creating and delivering his poems.

His stepfather was in attendance, and said he was extremely impressed with Herron's performance.

"His poem blew me away," said John Thomas, Herron's stepfather. "I got goosebumps when I heard it."

Herron wasn't alone, as many of the students said they felt anxious when they stepped up to the microphone.

Young said she anticipated the jitters, but felt this event was a necessary step.

"Public speaking is a huge life skill that everyone needs to get over and is a huge fear that most people have, so that alone is worth this experience," said Young.

Twenty-two students presented their poetry, and each received ample, and as Young said, deserved applause.

"Seriously, these are amazing kids,"said Young, beaming. "Watch for them. They're going places."

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