Students say Spoken Word is a nonjudgmental club where they can write poetry, some of which they later recite at poetry slams.

"I feel like I found my people," said Selin Gok, 16, a sophomore at West High School who wrote a poem about body image and named it "Thick Chick."

Selin competed Friday in a regional slam at West for the chance to take part in the state competition March 2 in Milwaukee, and her poem was chosen. Poems are limited to three minutes.

Other slams were held at Goodman Community Center. East High School will hold its slam Thursday.

Those who advance at state will have the opportunity to attend the national event, Brave New Voices, Aug. 7-11 at the University of Chicago.

The slams are open to those ages 13 to 19, and Madison School & Community Recreation supports Spoken Word clubs at East and West.

The adviser for the clubs is Ali Muldrow. In addition, history teacher Jessica Hotz works with the students at East; at West, English teacher Mary Swenson works with the students.

In addition to taking part in competitions, the students in Spoken Word meet weekly to write — sometimes responding to prompts — and read their poetry to others in the group. They collaborate with each other on group pieces, do some improvisation and rehearse for events. They also learn to use the microphone, do some recording and perform other experimentation.

In December, the students from East and West read their work in front of other students in an event called Locally Lit, an event showcasing literature in the East High School theater.

"It's helped me become a better writer and it gives me confidence to write other things," said Taylor Smith, 18, a senior at East.

Caide Jackson, 16, a junior at West, and others talked about how the Spoken Word club at West has a family atmosphere.

Harley Lemkuil III, 18, a senior at East, has taken a leadership role in the club there and likes that it gives him a set time to write.

Kynala Phillips, 15, a sophomore at East, said she came away from one competition on a "poetry high" and once she got home, she "wrote a bunch of poetry."

"It's just a place where you can speak your heart and not be judged," said Sarah Sharp, 15, a freshman at West.

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