Kai Foster brings poetry to life at national march


Courtesy of Kai Foster

Kai Foster, senior; Ellie Pena, freshman; Amani Mryan, junior; and Ayana Otokiti, junior, have performed their poem “Trigger Warning” at the Louder Than a Bomb poetry festival and the National March for Lives in downtown Chicago. The group’s video post of their performance has gone viral, and they have received numerous responses, including support from Emma Gonzalez, MSDHS student activist.

The first four months of 2018 have brought plenty of political and social turmoil. While some students have taken to leading walkouts or joining nationwide protests and marches, some students have taken to writing in order to express their feelings regarding current events.

Poetry Club is one of the outlets here that has given students an opportunity to not only write about their concerns and sentiments, but to actually voice them as well. Most recently, Poetry Club has received significant attention for a poem that members wrote and performed regarding the Parkland shooting.

Poetry Club members freshman Ellie Pena, junior Amani Mryan, junior Ayana Otokiti, and senior Kai Foster have performed their poem “Trigger Warning” numerous times since they wrote the poem in late February. Although the creation and execution of the poem was a joint effort by all four of the girls, the impetus behind the writing of the poem was Foster.

In addition to performing the poem at slam poetry competitions and festivals, they also were invited to perform in front of thousands of Chicagoans at the March for Our Lives, a national march held on Saturday, March 24 to protest current gun regulation laws and honor victims of mass shootings.    

In order to perform at the march, the Poetry Club members had to apply and send in their work to first be reviewed and considered. From there, the organizers of the march contacted Foster and the other club members with further details of the march and their rehearsals.

“Performing at the [March for Our Lives] over break was a great experience. It was really exhilarating, and a lot of people were cheering, but it also was kind of scary because we were in front of so many people and there was just so much energy,” said Ayana Otokiti, junior.

In addition to the recognition that the group of Poetry Club members received at the march, they have also received viral attention online after a video of their performance  was uploaded to the NowThis Facebook page. As of Thursday, April 12, the video had 3.9 million views and 75,000 shares.

Foster has been writing poetry since she joined the club sophomore year. Ironically, when she first was asked to join Poetry Club by Ms. Robyn Corelitz, sponsor of Poetry Club, she was hesitant. It wasn’t until after Adam Gotlieb, an artist from the documentary Louder than a Bomb, visited Central to teach poetry to students that Foster became inspired to start writing.

Courtesy of NowThis

“[Gotlieb] made poetry seem a lot cooler and relaxed than I had initially perceived through his writing workshop, and after school, I wrote my first poem,” Foster said.

Since then, she has been an active participant in the club and a poetry enthusiast. Through poetry, Foster has been able to experiment with different formats, topics, as well as social and political activism.

“I like writing because when shared it can be political and social without being too aggressive,”  Foster said. “Poetry demands a receptive audience and doesn’t always call for a debate or discussion after the fact.”

Since joining the club, Foster has used the vehicle of poetry to protest and communicate her own beliefs at multiple events, whether it be for the Louder Than a Bomb poetry festival at Columbia College that the club performs at annually or the March for Our Lives.

The version of “Trigger Warning” that Foster and fellow club members performed at the march was actually a revised draft that Foster had written for the Louder Than a Bomb festival, held on Thursday, Feb. 22. They formally performed the poem at LTAB three times, and then once at the March for Our Lives.

Although the four girls did perform the poem together, Foster describes its composition as a deeply intimate and meticulous process.

“The writing process wasn’t very organized as it was very spur of the moment. We actually trashed the original group piece we had planned to perform,” Foster said. “There really isn’t a way to go about writing poetry because it’s extremely personal. There’s no formula it’s only up to the person.”

Foster drew her inspiration for the viral poem from the news coverage of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that occurred on Wednesday, Feb. 14. Foster wrote the poem looking for a way to not only cope with the tragedy, but also as a way to express her frustrations to a larger audience. 

“I didn’t want Parkland to just be another shooting, and I was struggling to figure out what I could do with the little power I had,” Foster said. “I figured if we performed this piece, we might be able to prolong the conversation about gun violence and expand it to a bigger audience, and fortunately, we did.”

Although Foster isn’t currently working on any poetry due to the final activities of senior year, she plans on continuing to pursue her passion for political science that Poetry Club helped her foster as a student at Howard University in Washington, D.C. in the fall.

If you’re interested in writing and experimenting with poetry, you can attend the next Poetry Club meeting on Thursday, April 19 after school in room 254.