When Adam Henze ’12 was working as a waiter, he used to write poetry on the backs of receipts. He even wrote poetry in the car. On one occasion in 2005—when he started writing professionally—he was composing poetry on his way to the National Poetry Slam. And when he performed his new work at the contest, he came in at fifteenth place in the nation.
Not bad for last-minute work.
Adam is part of the slam poetry community, a style of poetry that is fast and live and comes with instant feedback. Slam poets are given three minutes to perform on stage, and the audience boos or cheers accordingly. “I love the nervous feel and the anxiety that comes from performing in a slam,” says Adam. “The adrenaline rush is so awesome. I love the immediate feedback of the crowd and I love the theology of the slam because it empowers the audience and makes them the focus of the show.”
Adam has participated in more than 100 slams around the country. This fall he will be an associate adjunct in the UIndy Communication department teaching Oral Interpretation and Introduction to Public Speaking and working with forensic practicums. He’ll also be the assistant director of the speech and debate team, a passion that is near and dear to his heart.
Adam participated in speech throughout high school and college, helping F. J. Reitz High School in Evansville win numerous state titles. He qualified three times for the National Forensics League national tournament, and in 2001, he placed third in the nation in dramatic interpretation after performing a one-man play.
He accepted a full-ride scholarship to Western Kentucky University and, in 2003 and 2004, helped to lead the WKU speech team to its first national championships. When he graduated in 2006, he was looking for ways to stay involved with speech and public performance, which led him to discover the art of slam poetry.
“Something beats in my head,” Adam says. “I think about one line, and I love playing with the syntax—the way the word sounds, the way the line reads. I think about how a sculptor would mold clay or chisel away at something to create an object. A written work can be performed, too, so I keep that in mind; I write what looks good on the page and make sure I can say it out loud as well.”
After discovering his new passion, he decided to go back to school. In May, he graduated from UIndy with a master’s in teaching. The advanced degree, he explains, puts him on a more even playing field with colleagues when teaching poetry. This summer he helped to run and develop the curriculum at the first-ever Slam Poetry Camp at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota. High school students came from such places as New York, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Omaha to participate in the one-week camp.
“Though we had only seven students,” explains Adam, “the camp was a total victory. A lot of high school kids are trying to find their voice, and this can be really hard. We were so happy with the changes we saw in these students, from boosts in self-confidence and awareness to understanding themselves and their place in the world. Lots of smiles and high-fives all around.”
Adam plans to participate in the camp again next year, in addition to teaching at a summer speech lab at the George Mason Institute of Forensics. When he’s not teaching, he loves being out on the road, performing at clubs and on the poetry slam circuit. He also loves a good haiku death match when one can be found. (Haiku is a poetic form having three lines of five, seven, and five syllables.)
“Haiku is like taking a snapshot of an image and turning it into something different,” he says. “It’s a different power than a long-form poem.”
Adam is working on a book of his poems in addition to creating a show that will combine dinner with poetry. But for now, he is loving his time on the road and getting to see the country.
“It’s fun to be with my friends and travel and perform,” he says. “It’s good to have things that humble you, and it’s good to have things that ground you. I’m often literally grounded because of spending nights on friends’ floors,” he adds with a laugh. “But I’m smiling and having a great time.”
—Jennifer L. Huber