Friday August 17, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Fifteen-year-old Heather Morris isn't afraid to share her words -- or her tears -- in front of strangers.

This week, the Drury High School student has done just that while competing in the WordXWord Festival's poetry slam competition.

Morris, the youngest contestant in the contest, advanced from the preliminary round Wednesday to the semifinals tonight.

A standing-room-only crowd at Shawn's Barber Shop clung to her words as she recited an original poem, "Stepfather," from memory. At times she trembled and her eyes welled, but she never stopped.

In one verse, she described being playfully swung around by her stepfather: "I was higher than any of the fears I had ever had."

Morris' perfor mance concluded with a hearty, heartfelt round of applause, and the three volunteer judges ranked her poem and reading among the highest scores of the evening. Afterward, judge Mitch Nash said he was nearly moved to tears.

Tonight, Morris will be among eight semifinalists vying for a spot in Saturday's finals.

Morris, a rising sophomore, has been filling notebooks with poetry since the fifth grade, but it was through her English teacher, Melissa Quirk, and area slam poet Jake Snow (aka Phoenix) that she began sharing her work outloud in front of an audience.

"My teacher was always giving us writing prompts, which helped," Morris said of Quirk, who sacrificed her own spot in the WordXWord poetry slam to see her student succeed.


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Through family friends, Morris met Snow, an alum of Mount Greylock Regional High School and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

"He helped me write. I had written before, but I never thought of sharing [my poems]," Morris said.

She said she was inspired to try after watching Snow perform.

This past school year, Quirk helped Northern Berkshire teens create "Slam I Am," a teen poetry slam held at The Local, a café in North Adams.

Morris participated in several events, including one in which she ran into the café wearing a team uniform and cleats to perform in between innings of a softball game.

Morris said she hopes to find more opportunities to share her work this school year and hopes more people will take an interest in it.

"I'm there to perform it to them, and I'm giving them a piece of me," she said.


If you go ...

Tonight: Poet Anis Mojgani hosts the WordXWord poetry slam semifinals.

Saturday: Jon Sands and Jeanann Verlee host the finals.

Both events begin at 6 p.m. at Shawn's Barber Shop, 442 North St., Pittsfield. The events are free and open to the public. Some poems may contain strong language and imagery. Audience discretion is advised.

More info: www.wordxword
festival.com.