There’s a creative group of students at Pittsburg High School (PHS) who’ve been stirring up attention and winning slam poetry contests throughout the Bay Area over the past year. A part of the PHS creative writing department, the students are called Prodigies and belong to the department’s Student Led Arts Movement (SLAM) Club.
Generally, high school poetry clubs are designed for students who enjoy writing, reading and studying poetry. These clubs are open to all students. Meetings are informal and usually consist of reading poems and biographies of poets and sharing original work.
The Prodigies’ SLAM Club is all about sharing poetry and the love of writing but also takes the program a bit further by adding rap to the mix. For the club’s president, PHS senior Marshawn Duchine (aka 510shawn), 17, the club is a place where he can be creative and involved in a community.
“The best part about this wonderful family of mine is the support,” he said about the club’s members. “We never let each other fall and if so, not for long, and that’s what I love about the community we’ve created.”
Duchine got involved in the SLAM Club in his sophomore year, when the Prodigies’ then-president discovered that Duchine was a writer.
“He saw me on the steps by myself one day and literally lifted me and brought me to (the club’s) room and told me to ‘SPIT,’ ” Duchine said. The poetry reference stands for Spiritual Poetry Ignites Thought.
“I promise you that was the most nerve-racking thing ever, but it paid off,” Duchine went on to say. “Look at me now. I brought a group of my friends who are also artists, and we introduced more of the rap side of poetry to the Prodigies.”
Duchine says that he first got involved in art at age 4 or 5, when he started dancing and trying to sing. He later began writing. He writes about everything from “where I’m from to where I want to go, plus some.”
Jojo Cisneros had a similar introduction into the Prodigies. Her love for poetry started at a young age when she was introduced to it. At 7, she was published in a children’s poetry collection. As a freshman at PHS, a school official recommended her to the creative writing class.
“I was hesitant to go at first, but my first time there felt right,” Cisneros said. After leaving PHS to attend Black Diamond High School, she still remained in the PHS Prodigies program.
Now at 17 and in her junior year of high school, she writes poetry, rap music and sings.
“I’ve seen both parts of the program firsthand,” she said, explaining how she raps and writes music alongside poetry. “It is a free space no matter what type of writing you have to offer. We consider it art as long as it’s true to you.”
Cisneros said that she writes about her experiences or whatever she’s going through at the moment. She uses writing as an outlet and finds that it resonates with others. Cisneros won third place at the Youth Speaks Teen Poetry Slam Finals this past summer. She said she had performed in front of crowds before, but this was the only competition she had ever competed in.
“I’m sure my experiences are similar to most when it came to the poetry competition,” she said. “I went into it nervous and a little intimidated, being that you can feel the competitive demeanor amongst the other poets, which is expected because it is a competition. It just drives me to go harder.”
Cisneros encourages other PHS students to get involved in the program.
“The best part of the Prodigies program is the fact that it allows Pittsburg youth to have a creative outlet without the fear of being judged or looked down upon,” she said.
For more information on joining the PHS Prodigies, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Roni Gehlke can be reached at email@example.com.