Could you ever picture yourself writing a poem, pouring your soul out onto that piece of paper, and no more than 15 minutes later, having to perform it in front a full auditorium? Now, picture yourself doing the same thing, but add the pressures of competing for a national slam poetry competition! Not a lot of people can describe that kind of experience, but if you were to ask CVHS teacher Joshua Wheeler how it felt to be a national champion, there’s probably a few things he could tell
Wheeler has been writing poetry ever since he could remember, but only since 1998 did he decide to focus on spoken word, enjoying the creative freedom that the genre allows him to experience. After realizing the extent of his talents he began to enter competitions in 2002. He quickly became the “Grand Slam Champ” for Oakland. It didn’t take him much longer to receive the honor of winning the National Slam Poetry competition in 2004. Participating in competitions has allowed Wheeler to travel the country and perform in front of large audiences in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Minneapolis.
When asked why he started in poetry, his answer was simple: “I really liked writing and I thought that writing poems was a fun thing to do.”
While this might not be the most complex explanation, it makes the reason for his passion for the art loudly and clearly evident. Only a few people actually know of the critical acclaim that he and his group, Proletariat Bronze, receive throughout the West Coast. Upcoming poets from all across the Bay Area even go as far as to give them the credit of being the top artistic influences they look up to when crafting their own unique styles of
Although he has a full-time job as a high school teacher, and volunteers his time to take the prestigious role of the Trojans boys wrestling coach, Wheeler still manages to find time to travel across the country and support efforts by organizations that are attempting to develop his style of art.
In the summer of 2011, Wheeler was personally invited and flown out by HBO to New York to help judge the East Coast semi-finals for HBO’s Brave New Voices slam poetry competition, one of the country’s top contests between the nations top spoken word artists.
Just like anyone who has attempted to excel in anything, obstacles came to challenge Wheeler when he first started competing.
“My second year doing competitive poetry, I failed to make the cut for the Oakland Slam team and I began doubting myself,” said Wheeler. “I started to feel silly for wanting to partake in that genre.”
Evidently, perseverance runs through Wheeler’s veins, as it only took him a couple of years to not only make the slam team, but also take the title as champion for the whole city of Oakland.
“Your smile is like a flower, blooming in the rubble of these broken mornings. And like them, I’ll take my last breath when the day comes. But until then, I’ll cherish every moment ‘cuz it is what it is. And so it goes,” says one of Wheeler’s more powerful and impactful lines.
To those who are aware of the talent that walks beside them in the hallways during the day, this is not a new story.