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Marathon bombings take center stage at Boston poetry slam

In a packed theater on ­Huntington Avenue, high school students, teachers, and spectators gathered to cheer one another on and compete for the first place prize in the “Louder than a Bomb” poetry slam competition.

While the majority of poems were unrelated to the tragic events that happened at the Boston Marathon and instead focused on youth identity staples like looking for a seat at the lunch table, one of the opening acts featured four young women from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.

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One of those girls, with curly brown hair held back by a blue headband, lifted her chin and said “2:50 p.m.,” a reference to the moments when the first of two bombs exploded, killing three people and injuring more than 260 near the finish line.

They referred to Facebook passages that read: “I hope they kill him.”

“I hope it’s not a Muslim,” said one of the other poets, who was wearing a hijab, or head scarf.

And while they said the bombings were unforgivable, they questioned the system that is supposed to treat someone as “innocent until proven guilty.”

“We are not on his side,” they said, referring to Dzhokhar Tsaraev, who is ­believed to have set off the explo­sions, along with his brother Tamerlan.

Although it seems a perfect fit for a city in the stages of healing following the bombings, the poetry slams have been going on for more than a decade, originating in Chicago.

While the announcer helped turn the theater into a dance party at times, the discussion turned more political shortly before the competitors ­approached the microphones.

He announced to the crowd that the Boy Scouts of America approved a plan to accept openly gay boys.

“Now we can work on Chick-fil-A” he shouted, a reference to the fast food chain that has seen controversy over funding of antigay organizations.

Five students from Codman Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester were given the first-place trophy. Four of the team members performed individually, while there was one group reading. Their poems ­focused on topics ranging from race and education to gun violence.

After the readings, Morra Pirsch, 25, of Somerville, who volunteered at the event, said she thought the competition ­offered a fresh perspective from young poets.

“I thought it was really the intention to talk about the bombings,” she said. “These young people bring the intention of healing to the event.”

Tawanna Fulton of Dorchester, who attended with her son Christopher, 11, said she was surprised that poets were able to address the bombings. She said she brought her son “to see how words can be powerful” and how “words can bring change.”

The slam was sponsored by the Huntington Theatre Company, the National Poetry Slam, and the the Official MassArt ­Poetry Alliance.

Alli Knothe can be reached at
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