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Valley poetry program culminates with live performances in Carbondale and Aspen

Andrew Travers The Aspen Times
Poet Logan "Dirty Verbs" Phillips performing at the Wheeler Opera House in 2014.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

What: Youth Poetry Slam

Where: Third Street Center, Carbondale

When: Friday, Feb. 27, 6:30 p.m.

Cost: Free

More info: http://www.aspenwords.org

What: Aloud: A High Altitude Poetry Jam

Where: Wheeler Opera House

When: Saturday, Feb. 28, 6:30 p.m.

Cost: Free

More info: http://www.aspenwords.org

With 20 eighth graders circled around her in the Aspen Middle School library Wednesday afternoon, Mercedez Holtry introduced herself by performing three poems.

The first was about her name — specifically her name’s proper pronunciation, not like the car, but in her grandmother’s Mexican inflection – and her Mexican-Caucasian identity. In flowing verse, she told of how a grade school teacher calling roll in her native Albuquerque, New Mexico, abruptly dropped the rolled Rs she applied to Holtry’s classmates’s names when she got to Mercedez and how “her accent changed quicker than my face turned red.”

Holtry then performed a poem about the after-school poetry program she runs in Albuquerque, and about an interaction with a homeless student: “Some of the kids know struggle better than their ABCs.”

She closed with a spoken-word piece dedicated to the girls in the Aspen group, about feminine strength, before beginning an hour-long poetry workshop.

Holtry, a student at the University of New Mexico who has won multiple slam competitions there, is one of three poets who have been making the rounds in Roaring Fork Valley schools for the past two weeks, sharing rhymes and helping local kids find their voices.

Now in its third year, the poets-in-schools program — presented by Aspen Words, the literary nonprofit formerly known as the Aspen Writers’ Foundation ­— brings energetic, young, spoken-word artists into local schools for workshops, culminating in a student slam poetry competition in Carbondale and a live performance at the Wheeler Opera House. The Wheeler slam last year was an inspiring event, filled with inspired words from local young people along with the visiting poets.

Poet Myrlin “Myrlindo” Hepworth, based in Phoenix, has come to the valley for all three years of the program. Last year, he was joined by Tucson-based poet Logan “Dirty Verbs” Phillips. Both are charismatic performance artists, with published poetry collections under their belts and a devotion to teaching young people to express themselves.

This year, Aspen Words added a third poet, in Holtry, and expanded to 16 schools — private and public — from Glenwood Springs to Aspen, with 3,000 middle and high schoolers taking part.

The workshops can give kids perspectives on poetry and on figures of speech, like metaphor, in an accessible lessons with a hip-hop spirit. The bilingual teaching artists also offer a cultural bridge in a valley that’s often divided between Spanish and English speakers.

At the Aspen Middle School workshop this week, Holtry had students introduce themselves by playing “One Truth and One Lie,” going around the room with each student sharing one true thing about themselves and one false thing, leaving Holtry to guess which was which. They then broke up into two groups to evaluate the truth of the phrase “Money can’t buy happiness” — one group arguing for its truth, the other against it.

After a debate between the two groups, Holtry noted that they’d each used similar examples but different perspectives to prove their points — money can buy a wedding, one side argued, but it can’t buy love, said the other. Seeking your own truth, Holtry concluded, is a writer’s mission.

“It’s up to you as poets and writers to find that truth for yourself,” she told them.

From there, the kids put pen to paper for their own poems, using the prompts “I’d be lying if I told you …” and “The truth is …”

While the workshops often give students an opportunity to express themselves and explore their own identities, the performances today and Saturday give grown-ups a chance to listen to kids in a way they might not otherwise.

The Youth Poetry Slam, at the Third Street Center in Carbondale, is open to all local students form grades seven to 12 for poems in both Spanish and English. This year, it’s followed by a Cumbia Dance Party — with Phillips DJ-ing — open for all ages. Winners from today’s student competition will perform Saturday night at the Wheeler, alongside Hepworth, Phillips and Holtry.

atravers@aspentimes.com


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