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Interview with Chris Lafortune for Oak Park Leaves  London students share their poetry:

This visit to the United States had been a good experience for 14-year-old Tevin Kirwan so far. Kirwan, a student at London’s Lammas School, said it’s been tiring some days, all that he and his fellow students from east London have done in the Chicago area. Other days, it’s been quite energetic.

But the food, he said. The food has always been good. “Whatever you put in the food, you best come to England and do it,” Kirwan said. “The food is amazing.”
The group of seven students from Lammas is visiting Oak Park-River Forest High School as winners of the London Teenage Poetry Slam. It’s the sixth year London slam winners have visited the high school, a program arranged through the work of Oak Park River Forest (OPRF) teacher Peter Kahn.
“It’s a beautiful thing when kids from different cultures find so much common ground and share their lives poetically,” Kahn said.
And quite coincidentally, the London students are in the United States as it’s elected its first black president, Barack Obama. All of the students from London are black. “Symbolically, it couldn’t be better timing,” Kahn said. “The British are more aware of American politics than Americans are.”
On Nov. 5, the London students visited Austin Polytechnical School on Chicago’s West Side. They, along with students at the Austin school, wrote and shared their thoughts on Obama’s election.
“Hopefully, it will open doors and open eyes,” Kirwan said. “Why can’t the whole world have black presidents?” Or at least more than the two black parliament members England has today, Kirwan said. “Things will get better, not just for America,” fellow student Liliana Almeida said. “It really will be a mark of history.” The writing exercise at Austin Polytechnical was designed to inspire students, to help them see what they can do, Lammas School poetry slam coach Nick Makoha said. “Basically, it’s bringing back the American dream … seeing themselves as a part of it,” Makoha said. Following the visit to Chicago’s West Side, the London students were scheduled to take part in poetry slam presentations at OPRF Thursday and in the fall showcase poetry slam organized by Kahn. London slam team captain Darnel Sharpe was a little nervous about the coming presentation. The poetry the London students were to perform was familiar to them, work they’d read aloud many times before. “We’re in a whole different country,” Sharpe said. “I’ve performed lots of times, but I’ve not been nervous before.” There was a lot of pressure now, he said, with people reminding him Thursday was the big day. Kirwan, at least, wasn’t nervous. He was looking forward to being on stage.
“When I go on stage, I’m the center of attention,” he said. “You get this feeling. Your heart starts pumping more … At first you’re nervous, but then you start to get into it.”

 By CHRIS LAFORTUNE  © Copyright 2008 Digital Chicago, Inc.