RSO helps students express emotions, find confidence through poetry


Word Hammer participants — from left to right, top row: Elizabeth O'Donnell, Zachary Strozewski, Dustin Drew; middle row: Ahsha Davis, Eric Heinrich, Danielle Francis, Jo Kelingos; bottom row: Jasmine Merritt, Brandii-Mikayla Washington, Tiffany Mitchell, Tana Smith — pose for a photo.

For Danielle Francis, poetry was the one thing that helped decompress stress from many factors in her life — one being her mother's battle with multiple sclerosis.

"It was one of those factors in my life that made me want to write poetry, to write not only about those experiences, but also to write for myself," Francis said. 

The Alma senior went from discovering Word Hammer four years ago after seeing her roommate being involved, to being president of the slam poetry Registered Student Organization. 

Word Hammer consists of poets and performers dedicated to helping each other develop their skills. General meetings are 7 p.m. every Wednesday in Moore Hall room 114. 

Word Hammer also participates in poetry slams — spoken word poetry competitions that combine poetry and performance to create an open forum, while competing against other universities and their slam teams. 

Poetry slam competitions are conducted once a semester, and are usually judged by four or five judges and the audience. The next poetry slam will take place at 8 p.m. April 18 in the Charles V. Park Library Auditorium. The event will began with an open mic at 7 p.m., immediately followed by the slam. 

Each Word Hammer meeting features either a prompt for the poet to write in about only a few minutes to perform, a freestyle session where poets can read their own poems or well-known poet’s poems, or workshops that focuses on mastering certain poetry skills, such as stage presence and projection, Francis said. 

Francis said she understands many students could feel uncomfortable or skeptical sharing or reciting their poetry, and encourages them to just learn from others to strengthen their skills. 

"Our meetings and events provide a low-stress environment open to anyone with experience in poetry, but also others who are new to poetry and want to improve their skills," Francis said. "No one should ever feel uncomfortable or scared to recite their poetry. Every meeting is an opportunity for (students) to listen to their peers and learn new skills."  

Kentwood sophomore Nicholas Westendorp attended a Valentine's Day showcase, and was impressed with how it brought amateur and experienced poets together. 

"It was a great showcase, as it was awesome to see both poets from the club perform both old and new pieces, as well as to experience some new previously unseen poets bring new poems and faces to the scene," Westendorp said. "Poetry for me is an intimate form of self expression, and seeing others perform their work so well inspired me to write more poetry of my own." 

St. Ignace junior Carmen Thurston enjoyed reading poetry. However, she didn't know how to pursue writing poetry or what skills it took to be an effective poet. 

Attending her first meeting at Word Hammer, where she was taught on-stage performing, was the moment Thurston felt more comfortable being open to writing poetry, she said.

"The workshops are very fun and engaging, as I plan to attend more workshops in the future," Thurston said. "Learning about being a solid performer on stage was encouraging and made me more confident in writing poetry, as well as expressing my emotions and feelings through words."