This weekend, WITS and Meta-four Houston held a free youth slam workshop with Danez Smith at The Pilot on Navigation. Post-rain, students poured into The Pilot’s theater space to hear what Danez would say about the craft of performance poetry.

Even WITS writers and educators came out to the event to see what they could learn from Danez, well-known in the poetry community as the author of Don’t Call Us Dead (2017), and [insert] Boy (2014), as well as winner of the Lambda Literary Award, the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. Danez’ background in slam includes several championship titles and a year as festival director for the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam, as featured on HBO.

For many young writers, getting on stage is not easy. Not only do they have to share original poetry with their audience, but they have to do so in such a way that they command their audience’s attention. That requires confidence, and at a deeper level, comfort with their own bodies’ ability to express feelings and ideas.

To get students comfortable with the stage, Danez introduced the two-hour session with a few acting exercises, including one where each participant “lead with their favorite body part” and one where the participants had to work together to fill the stage with movement. After these exercises, Danez sat down with the students to discuss powerful poems by Patricia Smith, Franny Choi, and Jeffrey McDaniel. Together, the group imagined worlds that are only possible with poetry, worlds where anything can be said, and anyone can have a voice.  

Photo credits: Pin Lim

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