Students performed original works on October 15, 2020, during the second annual “High Rhymes & Misdemeanors” Poetry Slam hosted by Elon Law’s Legal Method & Communication Program.
The creativity and wordsmithery of Elon Law students took center stage this month in a poetry competition that, in the words of its top winner, proved to be “as therapeutic as it is entertaining.”
Elon Law’s second annual “High Rhymes & Misdemeanors” Poetry Slam hosted by the school’s Legal Method & Communication Program and supported by the university’s Center for Writing Excellence was held in advance of the National Day on Writing, an initiative of the National Council of Teachers of English.
The law school’s 2020 contest blended remote delivery via Zoom with in-person poetry performances by students in the building for the Fall Trimester.
Three judges awarded the competition’s top prize for:
“A Black Man’s Journey to Justice via Juris Doctorate”
By Kelby Hicks L’20
It was a cool Fall and I came in hotter than a summer Sunday,
I knew that one day I’d be away from the gunplay and maybe have SOME say about the way this system is run,
Maybe my fitness as a witness to testify about the true victims would only be affirmed by my ability to hurdle a certain Bar,
I arrived out of shape but on the run – from a life where fun often meant fate, and any hesitance as you deliberate would effectively capitulate oneself to the status quo,
And so I traded those marks for the properties of intellectuals, seeking protection from the predators who tallied torts against humanity and jeopardized justice,
Absolving themselves and their co-conspirators of liabilities from their actus reus levied against the lesser of us in society, invoking their unqualified immunity to act with impunity against inferior interests,
There was never consideration for our situation yet the allegations seem to be that we’re the ones who’ve breached the terms of this social contract, failing to make amends for their own unclean hands,
Res judicata to our potential problems, our pigmentation rendered many of these arguments moot before we ever brought suit,
Far away from the Garden of Eden, it’s evident that America continues to eat from the fruits of a poisonous tree –
Its roots run deep and sustain the negligence of a nation that has for too long neglected its standard of care,
Enough of the standard affairs…
America, this is your last clear chance – Get on your knees and put your hands in the air!
This is my castle; there are many like it but this one is mine, no doctrine nor doctored confirmations will deny me the justice I seek. My life is my legacy, and I shall protect it by any means necessary and proper under the law.
As the weather breaks and Fall gives way to another brisk winter wind,
I reminisce on the time before I became legally lethal,
Like a Phoenix I will rise from the depths of my darkest days, prevailing over botched trials to be the light illuminating a path of hope for my people,
All things equal under the laws of the land,
May these lectures be lessons to the millions who pretend they know how it feels to be born into this skin.
“I applaud Elon for creating this experience and leveraging the literary talents of students to provide an alternative means of solace from the stress of law school,” Hicks said. “I’ve made it a theme in these poetry slams to use wordplay about legal principles and topics that describe the range of emotions felt during my law school experience. Writing has been a tremendous outlet for me as I reconcile my aspirations with my ascent to this point in my life.”
Charlie Schatz L’21 earned second place for an untitled poem on memory and family, with Gabriella Lopez L’21 taking third for “From the Perspective of Privilege.” Hicks and Schatz tied for the People’s Choice Award decided in a popular vote among those in attendance.
Janet Keefer, a writing specialist at Elon Law, coordinated the poetry slam. She said the Legal Method & Communication Program wanted to observe the National Day on Writing with a special activity to underscore the importance of writing in all forms.
Students, faculty, and staff can join together in celebrating a culture that values the written and spoken word as both instruments for professional success and personal fulfillment, she said.
“A poetry slam has proven to be a good vehicle for celebrating ideas and language that relate to law but that are not constrained by the forms and language of the law,” Keefer said. “In ‘High Rhymes and Misdemeanors,’ 2019 and 2020, students, faculty, and staff have spoken in their own authentic voices. Their poems have been funny, profound, irreverent—even raw—and those who have seen and heard them have been the better for our poets’ work.”
Students who participated in the poetry slam said they appreciated the experience.
Dakota Price L’22 performed two works – “Dust on the Scales” and “Mortal Pact.” The former was inspired by a passage in the Bible’s Book of Genesis, while the latter was inspired by what he described as “endless social finger-pointing.” It is both an admission that evil exists, he said, and a challenge to everyone who thinks it exists only in other people.
“I was interested in the poetry slam because, although I write a lot of poetry, I’ve never shared any of it,” Price said. “I thought the poetry slam would be a good place to put my two cents in.”
Charles DeLoach L’22 offered similar sentiments for his contribution, “Flawed Law,” to the poetry slam. “I find poetry to be a beautiful medium through which we can express our thoughts and feelings about any topic imaginable,” he said. “There’s a lot that’s wrong with the world right now, so expressing my thoughts about some of the challenges we face in a poem was a helpful way to relieve some of the anxiety that comes with facing these problems. Then sharing it with a supportive group helped renew my sense of purpose to do my part in the fights ahead.”
Lopez’s poem was written for an assignment prior to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota last spring.
“When all of these events started happening I figured it was a good time to share the way I was feeling,” she said. “Initially I found motivation to write this poem as a response to the social injustice I see as a white passing individual. This was an expression of my empathy for people of color and my willingness to use my privilege to speak up for what is right.
“Writing that poem allows me to look back at it and hold myself accountable for the promises I made, and I intend to continue to keep fighting for equality until white privilege is no longer so prevalent in our country.”
Participants in the 2020 “High Rhymes and Misdemeanors” Poetry Slam (with links to select video performances)