Aspen Writers’ Foundation Brings Poetry to Area Students

February 18, 2014  • Jamie Kravitz, Guest Blogger

Roaring Fork High School student Haley Ameral performs on stage at the Aspen Writers’ Foundation poetry slam event in Aspen, Colorado. (Photo Credit: Garrett Edquist)

For two weeks in early February, the Aspen Writers’ Foundation (AWF) presented an innovative “Writers in the Schools” project, bringing two accomplished Arizona-based performance poets and teachers to the Aspen, Colorado, area to work intensively with more than 2,000 students in 14 schools. The AWF worked in collaboration with the Roaring Fork and Aspen School Districts to coordinate daily workshops with Myrlin Hepworth — poet, emcee, and teaching artist, who has been honored by the Arizona Commission on the Arts — and Logan Phillips — a poet, performer, and professor of Latin American literature, culture, and translation.

Roaring Fork High School English teacher Lindsay Hentschel thanked the foundation “for providing something beyond what I can do in the classroom on my own.” She reported that more than a few teachers told her it was the best assembly they’ve ever attended.

Roaring Fork High School student Jackson Hardin, pictured right, was one of several students who performed (photo taken by Garrett Edquist), mining subject matter relevent to both teen angst and the looming prospect of adulthood.

The in-school workshops focused on delivering a fresh approach to poetry, literature, and the power of the spoken word, placing poetry in context with hip-hop, rap, and other art forms with which the students are familiar. Classes often jumped between English and Spanish, bridging the divide between native English speaking students and English language learners.

Glenwood Springs High School principal, Paul Freeman, wrote the AWF to say, “Every now and then we find a program or event or activity that captures students’ interest and excitement beyond anything we had thought possible. Such occasions are infrequent… but we had such an event. I confess I knew nothing about slam poetry or slam poets. I certainly did not understand the power of the genre to generate so much interest in poetry.”

After a week of workshops with Hepworth and Phillips, 32 young poets took part in a “Youth Poetry Slam” on Feb. 10th. More than 250 people attended the event, which put each young poet on the PAC3 stage to read original works — many created just that week.

On Feb. 13th, Tony Award-winning poet and playwright Lemon Andersen joined Hepworth, Phillips, and the student winners of the Monday night Poetry Slam to present a night of spoken word at the Wheeler Opera House. More than 150 individuals attended, including Aspen Writers’ Foundation advisory board members, National Council members, and teachers and students from a 60-mile radius.

Jamie Kravitz is the program manager for the Aspen Writers’ Foundation.