By Daniela Ceja 42Fifty Staff Writer
On April 18, students from neighboring high schools met for the opportunity to perform original poetry at a coffee shop off Montgomery Road. The event, dubbed Voices Unite, was coordinated by Eric Bodwell, the LMC director and Spoken Word Poetry Team Coach for Neuqua Valley High School in an effort to showcase student talent and “develop a network of writers and artists”.
The event was held at Java Coffeehouse Plus, a small caffeine nook wedged between a physical therapy joint and a Kingsway Pharmacy. The space wasn’t tiny, but hosting students from over six different schools was a feat–many artists were left standing. Christian sayings were etched into wooden tables while a grand mural of Biblical imagery served as a backdrop. The kindling of an electric fireplace gave the shop some ambiance, but was slightly ruined by the harsh blending of fruit smoothies. Still, the show went on.
For many OHS students, this was a first experience. Erin Holtz, an English teacher at Oswego High School, admitted that “this was the first time heard of an open mic in our area”. Among the students who did attend, many expressed that they had never been at an open mic before, but we’re eager for the next one.
Ashley Sanders, a senior at OHS, performed her piece, “The Importance of Teachers”, a poem that thanks educators for their “infinite amount of work year round to help students” and reminds the reader that “it’s never a bad time to recognize their incredible abilities and talents”. It was one of the more light-hearted poems of the night.
Kyra Gonzalez, also a senior, shared her narrative, “What You Learn From Old Photos and Gym Class”, a quirky love letter full of vibrant imagery and wholesome anecdotes. She notes that her favorite aspect of Voices Unite was the chance it gave performers “to connect with the audience”. And how, at times, high school poets see themselves as “The Only One to Value Prose Ever. It’s kind of lonely sometimes, and it was enjoyable to exist somewhere that didn’t feel so true.”
Other OHS performers included Nicole Polous and Melanie Lumbert.
The schools that were invited to perform were East and West Aurora, Neuqua Valley, Waubonsee, and, of course, both Oswego schools. However, while writers from Aurora and Neuqua arrived with their respective Spoken Word club members, OHS students came independently.
When asked if Oswego had its own poetry club, Holtz responded, “We don’t have one. Years ago, there was a little spoken word club that didn’t have a lot of participation,” but assured that “if there is interest and dedication, help.”
(It should be noted, however, that OHS does host its own Coffeehouse event every fall–a place where students can fulfill 5-minute time slots with music, comedy, or spoken word.)
Poems ranged from a multitude of topics. From funny anecdotes of preparing cereal to the heartbreak of first love, pieces varied far and wide.
“A lot of the poems were clearly driven by emotion and experiences,” explains Lily Lantz, a senior at OHS, hinting at the influx of poems detailing the personal hardships of mental illness and eating disorders.
Despite the sensitive topics, people were actively supportive, showing their encouragement through the signature act of snapping one’s fingers. Whenever a performer delivered a strong line or simply got stuck, audience members snapped, urging the writer to continue.
“It was the total stereotypical open mic night,” Gonzalez jokes, “It was… artsy-fartsy.”
Overall, the event was a safe place for artists to receive real-time feedback for their work and meet other talented writers in the area. More open mics are scheduled to happen in the near future, so if you missed this one, don’t worry–there’s many more to come.