YAWP (Young Aspiring Writers With Power) won the Get Lit Finals Classic Slam on April 28. The team consisted of seniors Erika Duran, Patricia Lipana, and Tabatha Perez, junior Donna Hernandez, and coaches Cady Burkhart and Jordan Vogel. The event was held in The Theater at Ace Hotel in Los Angeles. YAWP was pitted against the three other finalist teams decided at the preceding semifinal and quarterfinal slams, and competed by reading classic poems and original responses.
This slam was the first time San Gabriel High School had ever reached a finals stage. Additionally, it was the first time in five years that a comprehensive, non-specialized public high school has competed at finals. Tabatha Perez said that non-comprehensive high schools tend to have an advantage in the poetry slams thanks to the resources available to them.
“They can spend as much time as they want, their teachers can pull them out to work on poetry all day, and they literally have a poetry class,” Perez said. “They get so many more opportunities. It was so amazing that this year a public school was able to go to finals and beat the private schools, art schools, and charter schools.”
Coach Vogel attributed YAWP’s victory in part to a focus on personal and authentic storytelling as opposed to choreography.
“I think a lot of the other teams had really strong and well-performed poems,” Vogel said. “But they weren’t as deeply connected to the stories they were telling, and I think that came through.”
Lipana agreed that her poem was greatly personal, adding that she felt emotionally conflicted when the victory was announced.
“I was really happy, surprised and proud,” Lipana said. “I was also kind of sad because personally, I wrote my poem for my grandfather so I just really wished he was there to see that, or at least someone from my family.”
Still, Lipana said that her performance was bolstered in part by the supportive atmosphere of the poetry slam.
“I thought that there were so many poets there that were amazing and better than me, but I admired them more than I felt intimidated by them,” Lipana said. “My teammates especially were incredibly supportive. I felt welcome[d] within that community even though it was my first time being there.”
Perez agreed with Lipana, adding that she believed the positive atmosphere led to several of YAWP’s best performances yet.
“That was the best I’ve ever performed, and I felt it,” Perez said. “I didn’t even feel like I was in a competition. I felt like I was just there saying my story and I felt like everyone wanted to hear it.”
Duran also said that their performance was stronger than usual.
“I had an out-of-body experience when I performed ‘My Unapology’ for finals,” Duran said. “I have never performed like that in my entire life. I got a 32.9 which was 0.1 away from perfect on a piece that I was so close to abandoning.”
The team won every round of finals and received a perfect score in the last round with “Sirens,” an original poem written and performed by Perez and Duran.
“We haven’t ever been in a room with someone who got a 33, so it was pretty cool that during finals,” Perez said. “In the last round, and our last time performing, we were the top scoring poem of the night.”
Coach Cady Burkhart said she felt proud of her team, adding that their victory may inspire other comprehensive public schools.
“I’m so happy for these four kids, that they were able to have this experience,” Burkhart said. “But more than anything I’m happy for high schools like us who now might feel like they have a shot.”
The Get Lit Finals Classic Slam concluded the poetry season for the 2017-18 school year. Students can try out for the poetry team by either taking an English class with Burkhart or Vogel or visiting the YAWP club.