Earth Day 2022 on April 22 was marked by some 180 people at the Water Rocks! Earth Day Poetry Slam held at Alluvial Brewing in Ames, Iowa. The event was a part of the ongoing 10th anniversary celebration of the Water Rocks mission to bring water quality and conservation education to Iowa’s youth.
Welcoming the crowd, Jacqueline Comito, Water Rocks executive director, remarked that Water Rocks had been using music and art in its programming during its first 10 years, and the team was eager to expand that with the kind of performance poetry artwork about to be displayed.
Kaleb (K.U.B.) Stevens, a community-focused arts professional and Water Rocks intern, was master of ceremonies for the poetry slam and provided the audience with an example poem — and a tutorial on the rules and proper slam etiquette for those new to the poetry scene.
In Round 1 of the slam, eight Iowa-based artists performed an original poem on the theme “My Relationship to a Body of Water.” The pieces reflected personal insights from each poet, including crossing oceans, swimming in stock tanks, paddling down Iowa’s rivers, being in and around water, and the life-giving qualities of the water we consume.
“The response of the crowd to these performances was incredible,” said Ann Staudt, Water Rocks director. “Each poet uniquely captured the essence and importance of water, and through their words and delivery carried the very same message that we try to impart through our Water Rocks education and outreach activities — water is everywhere, and everyone is responsible for how we use and protect it.”
For Round 2, five poets were challenged with the theme “Water Connects Us All.” One competitor discussed the permanence of water on earth through a connection to dinosaurs, while others incorporated their feelings about diversity, society, and caring for and about each other.
The final round of the slam brought three performers back to the stage to speak about the topic “The Future of Our World Amid Climate Change.” The finalists each brought passion and energy to their poems, bringing the audience to its feet and making the task of selecting a winner a true challenge for the panel of judges.
The finalists were: Summer Awad, a Palestinian-American poet, playwright, essayist and Iowa State University graduate student; DK (DeAn Kelly), a Des Moines, Iowa-based hip-hop influencer and mentor, poet, musician, performer and host of positive hip-hop music events; and Dallas Whitefield, a student at Western Governors University who is active in the Ames and Des Moines poetry scenes and is working on his first poetry collection.
Des Moines poet DK took home the top honors with an impassioned appeal about the condition of the Earth and a bleak future caused by humans. Pointing to the impact of every person, he said, “We haven’t met, but your actions affected my life,” and concluded with a dire warning: “This is destiny’s last flower and humanity’s last hour.”
Awad placed second with her poem, which described the current state of human consumption and disregard. She encouraged people to look to those who place more reverence on nature and simplicity, saying, “Maybe stopping our undoing is learning from the undone.” In closing, she challenged with, “What will we choose to learn?”
Completing the top three, Whitefield called to task people and politicians who do not take into account the cost of our lifestyles, noting, “Progress comes with a cost that someone has to pay.” He also painted a striking picture with, “Know that this place that supports our life is on life support.”
A highlight reel of the poetry slam performances can be found at waterrocks.org/poetry.
Next in celebrating 10 years of Water Rocks
The world premiere of “Water Rocks: The Musical,” at the Ames City Auditorium, is scheduled for June 16 with a reprise performance June 23. Information about showtimes is available at waterrocks.org.
Stevenson is a visual outreach specialist and conservation educator with Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.