Thursday, Jan. 10, 2008

Taking their thoughts, feelings by Storm

Parkdale High poetry group helps students

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Raphael Talisman⁄The Gazette
Senior Ivan Alemanji-Valdez, 18, of Riverdale, co-president of the Parkdale High School beat poetry group Lyrikal Storm, performs a poem during a meeting of the group on Tuesday afternoon at Parkdale High School. Co-President Robin Thomas, 17, a senior from Hyattsville, watches.

Click here to watch the video

For the past six years, Neville Adams, a 10th-grade English teacher at Parkdale High School, has spent a few afternoons after school with students who wanted to become better poets.

And what began as five teens reading and writing poetry grew into Lyrikal Storm, a group of 40 students who perform their own original poems, as well as compete in poetry slams, many times throughout the year.

At a rehearsal Tuesday, students took turns performing their pieces for each other. Some used song or theatrics to help express their thoughts, some created rhymes as they stood in the center of the class and others stood still reading pieces they had written during their winter break.

Senior Ivan Alemanji-Valdez, 18, of Riverdale has been involved with Lyrikal Storm since his freshman year, said he’s gained life skills by being part of the group.

‘‘I’ve learned about leadership, how to articulate myself and carry myself,” he said.

Adams said by being part of the group, the students are not only able to increase their communication skills and leadership abilities, but often times their grades improve as well.

‘‘The biggest thing is that the kids are able to put their emotions on paper and have someone listen to what they have to say,” he said. ‘‘We used to call [rehearsals] therapy sessions. Because sometimes we’d come in and just discuss issues.”

Robin Thomas, 17, of Hyattsville, co-president of the group along with Alemanji-Valdez, said she joined Lyrikal Storm as a way to express herself.

‘‘I started writing when I was in ninth a way to feel better. Writing is like my salvation,” she said. ‘‘When I get on stage and start to perform my’s a breath of fresh air.”

Students meet for about two hours twice a week after school, where they perform their original pieces for each other and receive critiques.

‘‘We help to craft and shape what they’re writing,” Adams said.

Thomas said the critiques offered usually help with the structure of the poem, similar to when a teacher grades a paper.

‘‘What didn’t he do there that we’ve pointed out before?” Adams asked the group after senior Kevin Williams Jr. of New Carrollton finished reading a piece. ‘‘He didn’t have one forced rhyme, did he?”

All topics are welcome to be written about and students tackle subjects like life, anger, heritage and drugs. Many pieces are often reflective poems about themselves.

Thomas said one of her favorite pieces she’s written is about herself.

‘‘It’s called ‘Bold, Black and Beautiful’ because I am [all of those things],” she said.

Auditions to join Lyrikal Storm are held at the beginning of every school year. The directors, Adams and Yvonne Brown, who is also a 10th-grade English teacher, look to make sure the students have a basic sense of reading and writing.

Adams said Lyrikal Storm has also partnered with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission to create ‘‘Café Groove,” which allows the students to travel to different areas of the county to perform in a café type of setting.

The group’s next performance will take place 8 to 11 p.m. Feb. 1 at Newton White Mansion, 2708 Enterprise Road in Mitchellville. Youths age 12 to 17 are invited to enjoy performances by Lyrikal Storm and Soul in Motion Drummers. There will also be an open mic and black history art session. Tickets are $3. Call 301-454-1459.

E-mail Maya T. Prabhu at

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For video of Lyrikal Storm performing, go to⁄video.