Verselandia Kicks Off at Cleveland


Clarion photo Ian Legros

Senior Zawadi Doti claimed the title of Cleveland’s 2017 Verselandia champion.

By Sophie Weir, Reporter

In a vibrant display of PPS students’ talent, the annual Verselandia competition is a window into the passions of young poets all across the city. Through the program, participants can express their ideas by performing slam poetry to audiences big and small, in a variety of settings. It’s a beloved and eye-opening tradition, with humble roots and a bright future.

To determine the students performing, local high schools conduct their own poetry slams and pick two finalists to continue to the citywide competition. On April 27, winners from each participating school will go on to compete in a grand slam at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

For both school and state events, the rules are simple: poems must be original work, each performance cannot exceed three minutes, and no props, costumes, or music are allowed onstage. Outside these basic guidelines, poets have complete creative freedom to explore any topic they care most about.

Cleveland’s slam took place Wednesday, April 12 in the library, where a small black stage was propped up and a panel of judges waited to evaluate all 11 student poets.

Themes ranged widely, from feminism, to childhood memories, racial equity, love and joy. One poet used tongue-twisting words as a repetition tool, while another compared emotions to colors, describing fluffy pinks and dripping thick purples. The unique array of poems made the event special, and amazing to watch.

Out of these 11, the five poets with the highest scores continued into the second half. Patience Flechtner, Mohamed Matan, Zawadi Doti, Jeanne Demeo and Pocket Patino each performed a second poem, and at the end of the round Doti and Patino were chosen to compete in the city slam. Said Zawadi on her experience, “I’m proud of myself, of actually memorizing my poem and putting all my heart into it. I like expressing myself in that form, and making it creative.”

Even though the students were scored and placed, it wasn’t just about the competition. According to Cat Marsh, a performer at the event, Verselandia encourages students to “just listen to the poetry and appreciate what everyone has to offer.” She says it was “really nice to hear from everybody because there’s a lot of people that you maybe wouldn’t expect to do that – it just creates an inclusive environment for sharing what you have to say in an artistic way.”

Verselandia judge Margaret Appel agreed with this point of view. Appel said judging the students was really hard, especially when they were showing so much bravery by pouring out their innermost thoughts and emotions. “When someone is doing something so vulnerable like that, it feels really horrible to then immediately evaluate them. That part was painful.” In the end, though, she believes it’s all a part of the experience.  Appel said, “When you’re immediately confronted with the things that scare you the most, that’s what helps you grow as a writer – getting out of your comfort zone and sharing your work.”

If you’re interested in attending the citywide Verselandia event, tickets start at $10 and can be bought at the entrance. You can visit for more information.