Hamilton

Young Hamilton poets drop words Louder Than a Bomb

Dennis Scherle came very close to flunking high school before he was introduced to poetry. His Grade 12 philosophy teacher offered him the chance to write a poem in exchange for a passing grade. From then on, he was "addicted."

'I wanted to pour my heart and soul into the same thing that helped me,' Denis Scherle says

This Hamilton Youth Poets teaching artist came very close to flunking high school before a teacher introduced him to poetry. It saved him and he became "addicted" to it. 2:10

At the sixth annual slam-poetry festival, Louder Than a Bomb Canada, young Hamilton poets dropped words like missiles. 

And, for many of them, 23-year-old poet Dennis "D'Scribe" Scherle was their missile guidance system. 

The Niagara poet is now one of a handful of teaching artists with Hamilton Youth Poets (HYP), a youth-focused spoken-word organization located in downtown Hamilton.

He was a struggling student, on the verge of flunking out when, in Grade 12, his philosophy teacher gave him a gift — a chance to avoid failing in exchange for a poem.

He was hooked. 

"Once I found poetry," he said, "it was an instant connection that almost solidified the idea that I too have a voice, and if I want, I can choose to use it."

Scherle says he "grew up in a family of chefs and people who worked with their hands" but poetry gave him a voice. 

Now he's helping other young people like him find their voice. The Niagara poet is one of a few teaching artists with Hamilton Youth Poets.

They festival, which ended last Friday, was devoted to shining a light on young and aspiring spoken-word artists. 

Writing poetry has already changed the way Gismalla "Gisy" Mohamed, a grade 12 student at Cathedral High School, sees the world. 
Gismalla "Gisy" Mohamed, a Grade 12 Cathedral student, delved into music after getting comfortable writing poetry. Now he writes and records his own music, as well as writing poems. (Justin Mowat/CBC)

"I had no clue people my age wrote poetry. I thought it was such an adult thing to do," he said. 

"We think about our differences a lot and [we] think we're more disconnected than we really are," he said. "I write with the intent of connecting with someone in the audience and have what I wrote resonate with them."

Connecting with the audience is also a motivation for Remiel "Don Don" Alicpala, also in Grade 12 at Cathedral, who chooses to emphasize emotions with his poems. 

"Do you know that feeling when it's really cold outside? It's snowing — it's Christmas Eve — and you go inside … you have a cup of hot chocolate and you feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside.

"It's such a nice feeling to think about. I like feeling warm and I like making people feel warm (through poetry)." 

Dallon Ban Suylekom, a Grade 11 student, approaches poetry with a more reflective and introspective mentality, writing about "things on her mind" like relationships and growth. It's cathartic and comparable to journaling, she said.

School of poets

When the festival isn't running, Scherle and fellow teaching artists have regular 'artist residencies' at local elementary and high schools from September through May, where they engage and instruct students in the art of poetry.

The workshops are intended to cultivate students' artistic voices, develop critical thinkers, and empower youth to be civically engaged, said HYP director Nea Reid.

Dallon Ban Suylekom, a Grade 11 Cathedral student, utilized poetry to help her through her awkward teenage years and reflect on her personal growth. (Justin Mowat/CBC)

Reid pointed to struggling literacy and high school completion rates across the city as her initial inspiration for bringing the organization to Hamilton.

The numbers for high school completion have risen in recent years, sitting at 62 percent in 2016 from 58 percent in 2006, but still below the provincial average of 65 percent, according to Statistics Canada.

Scherle says his role as a teaching artist is "insignificant to a certain point" and he is just a toolbox "trying to give [students] all of the things they can use, but they are themselves the builders of their own stories."

The LTABC festival wrapped up Friday with an event at Sir John A. Macdonald High School. Workshops and outreach-events will continue year-round. More information about the organization can be found here

These students from Cathedral High School in Hamilton are showcasing their best poems in the Louder Than A Bomb spoken-word festival, which runs until May 10. (Justin Mowat/CBC)

About the Author

Justin Mowat

Reporter/Editor

Justin Mowat is a journalist and a filmmaker interning at CBC Hamilton. He’s a multi-faceted storyteller with a passion for classic films, the environment, and the occasional slick guitar solo. If you’ve got a story to tell, he wants to hear it: justin.mowat@cbc.ca

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