Jasmine Roach '20 (far left) is a force onstage. Now, the talented freshman has written - and slammed - her way to San Francisco.

Concert or poetry reading?

It’s hard to tell when heartbeats sound like drums. Hers. The crowd’s. The other performers’.

They blend together in a beautiful rhythm, waiting for the lyrics to come. She steps onstage, every time surer than the last. And out come the words, tumbling over each other, rapidly fighting for their chance at life.

This is what Jasmine Roach does: she gives life to the written word.

Fourth grade: A unit culminating in each student writing a poem titled “I Am” sparks a passion for the pictures words can paint, the emotion encapsulated in each stanza. Fortunately, her middle school English teachers – Ali Gasser and Jeanette Zapushek – noticed Jasmine’s gift and inspired her to hone her craft. Daily doses of encouragement ensured she continued to write.

Eighth grade: YouTube videos with poets reading aloud became a routine part of Jasmine’s day. “The brutal honesty,” she says. “That’s what I loved. The authors reciting poems in an unapologetic way – you can’t get that from reading silently.”

This art form – slam poetry – allows Jasmine to fully express her constant stream of thoughts. Slam poems are often intense and emotional, their content best suited for an enthusiastic performance. In honor of National Poetry Month, Prairie’s English Department hosted “A Celebration of Words” last May, and Jasmine had the opportunity to perform an original piece for the first time. Nerves settled, she spoke, and a new journey began. Out come the words, tumbling over each other, rapidly fighting for their chance at life.

Freshman year: November. An official slam poetry competition with Jasmine performing – and coming away the winner.

Clare Costello, Jasmine’s current English teacher, finds the growth she has witnessed exceptional.

“The thing that has really impressed me about Jasmine is that she came into the slam world with very little experience, and she has absolutely flourished since then,” says Clare. “She has really raw talent – she’s eloquent but also vulnerable, so she radiates emotion when she performs. She’s the rare intersection between creative writing ability and dynamic performance.”


A first-place finish propelled Jasmine further into the slam world, taking her most recently to Voltage, a spoken word competition in Milwaukee for teenage students. Her performance during the Grand Slam landed her a coveted spot on a team that will travel to San Francisco this summer to represent Milwaukee in the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival.

A spring afternoon: Sunlight is streaming into the office and Jasmine glances at the floor, the walls. She discusses her love of the arts – she plays piano and performs in Prairie’s theater productions – and how those venues provide an outlet for her to share her story. She is thoughtful, pondering the best way to explain what inspires her to write. “In a way, everything can be poetic,” she says. “This table for example. What does it really represent? A place for people to sit, to be in community. That is something worth writing about, and writing is really the formula for poetry.”