PORTLAND – There was just one winning team in the second annual Longfellow Elementary School poetry slam on Thursday evening, but all 12 impressed the judges, especially me.

Fifty-five fifth-graders, divided into teams, recited original poems that they had rehearsed dozens of times in recent days.

One after another, the teams took the stage in the auditorium of Deering High School and performed for an audience of grinning parents and squirming siblings.

Six teams made it to the final round, in which the CHEMM Slammers narrowly edged out the 5 Poeteers in a contest hosted by Ethan Minton of WCLZ-FM.

The four-member CHEMM Slammers took the top prize — colorful Mardi Gras-style necklaces — with their presentation of “Chocolate,” an ode to the sweet stuff written by team member Mabel Pence.

The team, including Hunter Griffin, Mazie Linsmith and Caleb Delano, delivered the poem with a captivating mix of intensity and humor.

“I stood up there and scanned the audience,” Caleb said after his animated performance. “It gave me a lot of energy.”

The four other judges and I scored the contest from the front row of the auditorium, grading each poem and performance on a scale of 1 to 10.

With a white board and a black marker in hand, I had to admit early on that, as much as I love poetry, I felt the heavy burden of gauging the quality of each team’s effort.

“I have no idea what I’m doing,” I confided to Megan Tumavicus, who was coaching her daughter, Grace, a fourth-grader at Longfellow who was one of the other judges.

“I don’t think anyone does,” Tumavicus replied.

The other judges were the author and cartoonist Lincoln Peirce, Longfellow teacher Kimberly Marsh, and the school district’s intervention specialist Aaron Gritter.

No team received a score below 7. But then, scoring really wasn’t the point of the slam, which was organized by fifth-grade teachers Lori Carlson, Elizabeth Peterson and Richard Johnson.

“We were looking for something that would benchmark learning and demonstrate all that we’ve learned by fifth grade,” said Principal Dawn Carrigan at the start of the slam.

Before announcing the winning team, Carrigan noted that few adults in the audience would have the courage to compete with the Longfellow fifth-graders.

“Everyone has won here tonight,” she said.

I couldn’t have agreed with her more.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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