September 1, 2002
Young Poets Explore the World Through their Words

A personal disclosure: the one and only time I was in a poetry slam, I lost to Katie Fowley. I'm in good company: Katie has been beating her elders regularly since her first slam at age 10.

That was seven years ago, when Katie attended a First Night afternoon workshop for young poets and was invited back for the evening slam--a head-to-head competition, where poets are judged as much on performance as on the poem's content. She made it to the final round that night and has been a Boston-area slam favorite ever since. And writing and performing poetry have become indispensable parts of her life.

"Poetry has been essential to my sanity," says Katie. "Middle school was not a good time for me, and poetry became a way of venting about all of that. Injustice was my theme. I wrote a lot of angst-type poems. I wrote about poverty and war. For some reason in middle school I felt I was capable of writing about that. Now I feel those themes are larger than me. I don't know how capable I am to write about things like that. A lot of my poems have a craving in them--being unsatisfied, unhappy. I think there is a desire for something that spawns my poetry."

She writes of the pain of feeling left out, the rage at witnessing homelessness. But there is also a joyous enthusiasm for life in poems like the one where she writes exuberantly of wanting "to bite and lick this life" and wear "way too much aqua eye shadow. Katie has written two chapbooks and has taught creative writing at Summerbridge, a Cambridge summer educational program, and to her classmates at the Waring School in Beverly. To her, poetry is communication, and she enjoys discovering "the intimacy that can be created even among strangers who are hearing a poem." It is also an art she works at with serious intent.

"I just want to keep pushing my poetry to new places and new ways of writing. I feel I need to read more to help my writing keep growing," she says, citing Neruda, Lorca, Mary Oliver, and Mark Doty among her favorites. "I want to figure out how to reach people in the best way and make poetry something that's not inaccessible. Performance is important to me, but I don't know if that's the goal of all the poetry I'm going to write in my life."

Jared Holzman is another poet who strives for connection and communication through his words. With a mother who was an active participant in Boston's poetry community, Jared is, at 16, a veteran of poetry slams.

"As long as I could express emotions, I was putting them into words. I always liked how you could convey a perspective and everyone would be attentive. It opened me up to wanting to share my thoughts."

"I write about society's corruption and innocence, my own struggles with depression, and a feeling of solitude within oneself," he says. "I like to work with a strong sense of rhyme and rhythm. I like rhyme. It adds more of a challenge. I like to be blatant and in your face, but I also like to switch off and use metaphor sometimes, too. I try to be provocative."

Last spring Jared participated in a regional poetry slam for high school students.

"It was very invigorating. I felt nervous and vulnerable being onstage presenting a part of myself. I try to present how I view society and how society's interaction can influence a person's emotions." For Jared, who is a junior at the Castle School, a residential therapeutic high school in Cambridge, the slam also had the dimension of putting him with, as he puts it, "normal high school kids" and seeing that they were concerned with the same issues he was writing about. "It was very healing."

Jared's classmate, Toby Hartwell is another poet who took part in that slam, which he calls "one of the most important experiences of my life."

Toby likes to use the sound of the words to draw his audience to his message, which often deals with world issues.

"I like finding a way rhythmically to make something sound good to the ear, so you can feel the flow of it. I feel I'm saying something that is true to me--this is what I believe in, what I feel."

"I'm going to continue writing until I no longer have anything to say." says Toby. Then, flashing a quick grin, he adds, "I always have something to say."

In his Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke advised, "Go within and scale the depths of your being from which your very life springs forth." It is advice these young poets are living by.

As Katie Fowley wrote in her poem, "After My Computer Crashed, "... if you want to fall/ to dark uncharted tunnels/. the place where darkness forgets its name/ I can't explain/ but words will take you there."

City Type features the city's writers exploring their world. If you have suggestions, contact Ellen Steinbaum at

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