Alexis Holcomb's body tensed up as she stared at the poem she was about to read into the large, black microphone.
The 17-year-old River's Edge High School junior is admittedly "super shy," but Alexis said she is becoming more confident, thanks to Kennewick poet Jordan Chaney.
After all, Chaney tells students, "When you are freaking out, it is not polite to your audience."
Each week, Chaney, whose black T-shirt proclaims "I am a poet," teaches spoken work workshops he calls "Speaking from the Pen" at the Richland high school, the Benton Franklin Juvenile Justice Center and other schools.
Chaney, 32, takes a casual approach to teaching. He laughs with students and sometimes physically throws himself into their games of Guesstures.
When performing his own work, however, Chaney is anything but casual.
As he recited for the class Light, from his first book Double-Barreled Bible, Chaney's voice became richer and his hands moved along with his voice.
The small group of teenagers became enthralled as Chaney performed a poem he wrote to try to help the drug addicts he was working with as an intern, hoping to get them to see their inner light.
Then he asked the Richland teens what they noticed, and they discussed metaphors and images used in his poem.
Chaney's workshops have grown since his first one several years ago at Rivers of Ink, a Tri-City literary festival. In fact, classes have become Chaney's full-time job and his way of life.
Spoken word can be an outlet for people to express their thoughts and feelings, he said.
"It really comes down to teaching communication skills and self-confidence through art," Chaney said.
The art form is how Chaney broke the mold instead of following the path of others in his Kennewick neighborhood.
"I didn't have anybody to model myself after as a man," said Chaney, who grew up without a father.
While attending Kamiakin High School, Chaney noticed street life, drugs and gangs were taking over the lives of many teens in his neighborhood. Chaney was lucky, he said, because he found mentors to help him choose a different path and pursue his childhood dream of becoming an artist.
"I picked up the pen and started writing," he said.
Chaney said he has also seen spoken word help his son, David "Mista DC" Chaney, 16, become more outgoing and confident. David also expresses himself through the hip-hop music he writes.
Saveta Lomax, a 19-year-old senior at River's Edge, said she has found inspiration in Chaney's story and struggles.
Chaney's poetry reads more like song lyrics, which is something the West Richland teen wants to adapt to her own work.
Spoken word has its own cadence and meter, and it frequently has an understory of social change, although Chaney also writes passionately about love and wine. He has been dubbed as "the poet laureate of Washington Wine Country," regularly performs at wineries such as the prestigious Col Solare on Red Mountain and contributes to Wine Press Northwest magazine.
Alexis of Richland said she believed Chaney's program would be focused on writing poetry. While writing is part of it, she said they also play word games and work on public speaking and presentation. Although it sounds difficult, the games help get the point across, she said.
When Kennewick teacher Kim DeJong heard Chaney present a couple of years ago, she knew he needed to show his poems to the teens she works with at the Community Alternative Transition School. It assists kids on probation who are expelled or can't get into school.
Chaney came to the school, held at the juvenile justice center, and "the way they responded to him, it was incredible," DeJong said. "It was like an instant connection he made with them."
Some of the kids are tough to reach, but Chaney offers them a healthy outlet and a way to express what is true to them, DeJong said.
A 14-year-old Kennewick boy who attends the school said Chaney has helped him put his feelings down on paper and not be afraid to read in public.
"Besides, he is amazing," he wrote.
Chaney teaches confidence, public speaking and literacy in addition to poetry, DeJong said.
A 14-year-old Kennewick girl at the school said Chaney helped her realize poetry is more than romance and "boring stanzas."
"You can express your feelings in it instead," she said.
A 15-year-old Richland boy in the class said Chaney has helped him take more responsibility in his life.
"I'm also starting to care more and more about my education because of the stories he had told us," he wrote.
In the next few months, Chaney hopes to take spoken work to inmates at Connell's Coyote Ridge Correction Center. He has applied to be a volunteer and is waiting to schedule a time.
Lori Wonders, the prison's public information officer, said they hope Chaney will be a positive role model for some of the offenders.
Without mentors, Chaney said he might now be an inmate -- or already be dead. Volunteering there will be his version of paying it forward.
DeJong used to teach at Kennewick High School, and she first met Chaney during a trip to the Puget Sound region that involved Kamiakin and Kennewick high school students. She remembers him as introverted.
Now, "He is one of the most genuine, transparent, magnetic people that I have met," she said. "And when you are around him, you can't help but feel good."