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Students find healing through spoken-word poetry

Young people of all ages are able to learn and grow at a spoken-word poetry workshop and slam at the Polytechnic campus on Saturday

Tomás Stanton, founder of Phonetic Spit, performs his original works of spoken-word poetry at ASU's Center for the Study of Race and Democracy.

Tomás Stanton, founder of Phonetic Spit, performs his original works of spoken-word poetry at ASU's Center for the Study of Race and Democracy.

Spoken-word poetry allows artists involved to find comfort through expressing themselves in their community. ASU students will have their own opportunity to find peace through their voice as the Polytechnic campus will host a spoken-word poetry workshop and slam on Saturday, Nov. 5.

The workshop and slam is open to middle school, high school and college students.

Participants in Saturday's event will have the opportunity to work on a new poem during the workshop and then they are able to perform that poem at the slam if they would like to do so. Some of the more experienced poets will recite poems or pieces that they have been working on for a much longer period of time.

Although ASU has hosted poetry slams in the past through the Herberger Institute, this event on Nov. 5 will be the first time the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts at Poly has brought in a guest to help lead the event. 

Saturday's guest will be the founder of youth group Phonetic SpitTomás Stanton. Stanton will be teaching the writing workshop as well as acting as emcee of the slam. 

He said when he runs a slam such as this, he strives to cultivate a supportive, inclusive space for poets of all levels.

"Everyone has a story to tell, and young people of all ages have stories that are important to hear," Stanton said. 

Stanton said the students participating won't be the only ones learning something at the event.

"I always learn the most from working with and teaching youth," he said.

The workshop and slam will allow students to better their skills with this art form while working with professionals in the field.

The event organizer and ASU assistant professor of English education, Wendy Williams, said it is important to actively include all ages so that all who are involved can experience the power of writing and performing spoken-word poetry. She emphasized the importance of middle school and high school students having a positive and rewarding experience on the ASU campus so that college may seem less intimidating.

William said her main goal for the event is to show students that they can have an active voice in the community. She actively supports spoken-word poetry throughout the Valley and believes writing can have a major impact on students involved.

"Too often students equate writing with a boring, five-paragraph essay ... but writing should also be useful to us in our day-to-day lives," Williams said. "We can use writing to vent, to heal, to declare our love, to speak out about injustices, to express ourselves through our own languages, to reflect on and document our lives, to imagine a better future."

Williams has researched the topic extensively, focusing on poets aged 15 to 19. She said not only can the art form be therapeutic, benefitting young people struggling with depression or pain, but it can also help provide personal and academic benefits.

According to her research, participants cited improvements in grades, greater comfort participating in school, increased confidence, the development of leadership skills, greater openness and empathy and improved revision skills and use of poetic devices.

She also experienced the therapeutic and cathartic benefits of spoken word firsthand. She wrote a poem about her mother dying three years before and said it was in the moment that she sat down to write the poem, that she realized there was so much about her mother's death she had not wanted to face in her prior grievances.

"Putting the most painful moments down on paper was cathartic, but performing the piece was even more powerful," Williams said. "Each subsequent performance has helped me gain control over the words and over the memory. I can see why people of all ages would be drawn to this medium."

Honors Global Health and English Literature senior and a young poet who will be performing at the event Megan Atencia is working on her creative project this year, which focuses on bringing the spoken-word poetry community to Tempe.

Atencia said her road to finding spoken-word poetry was a roundabout and multi-layered one. She said after falling in love with music by experiencing how lyrics and melody can intertwine like puzzle pieces to deeply impact a person is when she learned how to cope with the world around her.

"I saw the amazing community that formed around the music built on experiences, and how music served as a platform for amazing, healing human connections," Atencia said.

However, she said she ended up becoming more focused on academics and lost touch with her lyrical experiences. It wasn't until her grandmother died in 2014 that she discovered an outlet where she could express herself the same way she used to with her songs — spoken-word poetry. 

"It was then I realized that my grandmother — and myself — would probably be much prouder of me if I started following these creative pulls that had been tugging at my heart for so long," she said.

Atencia is now actively involved in poetry events all around the Valley and is starting up her own poetry workshop at a local mental-health hospital.

As for Saturday's event, Atencia said she looks forward to seeing the community in motion and to learn more about what is happening with fellow poets across the Valley.

"I wish I had this kind of support when I was younger," she said. "I see some of the students attending are at the age that I was when a lot of the stuff I write about happened to me and it'll be amazing to see what comes out of that."

Experienced poets such as Atencia as well as rookies are welcome to come together to explore their passions and find their own voice of expression at Saturday's event. 

Reservations are not required for the workshop and slam, but about 35 people have said they will be in attendance so far. The event will be held in the Aravaipa Auditorium, which holds about 400 people, and all who are interested are welcome to attend.

Students who are interested in expressing themselves through spoken-word poetry are encouraged to contact Wendy Williams at to learn more information about Saturday's event or any future events.

Reach the reporter at or follow her on Twitter @hayieysays

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