Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Event Blog! Providence Youth Poetry Slam

 *Disclaimer: I had a bunch of awesome picture but Blogger won't let me post them :( *

 Recently, I was introduced to the wonderfully intricate world of poetry. A friend I met here at Rhode Island College is a slam poet and performs in many venues around the city. I went to a slam toward the end of February that so happened to be the grand slam finals for the youth team he is on, which decided which six poets would make it to the Brave New Voices stage in Philadelphia in July. Watching the performers and listening to their stories full of passion and emotion opened my eyes to a whole new mode of communication utilized by many around the nation.
           AS220 on Empire Street in Providence is open to every poet, writer, composer, and just about anybody who wants their voice to be heard. The first and third Thursday of every month is dedicated to performing poetry- slam poetry in particular. Slam poetry was created as a way to add competition to traditional poetry while still celebrating the works of the poets. It is a way for artists to express themselves through spoken word to an audience and a panel of judges. Slam poetry began as a way to advance and enhance basic writings and readings. It keeps the audience interested and excited about the piece, using different tones of voice and various gestures to promote the message of the author.
            I was asking my friend so many questions about poetry, “slamming”, and about his experiences with his teammates on the Providence Poetry Slam Youth Team. My main question was what made slam poetry so different from normal poetry. He told me that “As a poet, a slam is a way for me to get my competitive spirit out and still let my work be heard”, and I thought it was great that poets are able accomplish both in one setting. I also asked if he is affected either negatively or positively by the scores from the judges after he slams. He explained that “Even though the competition is based off of numbers, it becomes more an opportunity to creatively construct a poem with different features and prove my point or express my feelings”. He elaborated by saying that although the basis of a slam is on numbers and a defined winner, that is not really what it’s about to the poet on stage. The only thing that matters is how well one can convey their story to an audience, how the audience reacts, and what everyone as a whole can take away from the performance…not the numerical value that is placed on it. Slam poetry is spoken word, and keeps people interested in poetry for many reasons. Slams have developed the art into various competitions and created many new outlets, while simultaneously bringing together a community.

            After I left the slam, my mind was running in circles, thinking about how many concepts I could connect between the performances I witnessed and the things we’ve talked about in class. The ideas and workings of August and Rodriguez were prevalent, as well as all of the dominant ideologies described through SCWAAMP. Through further investigation, I found three resources available for slam poets wishing to seek further opportunities to showcase their work.
   One of the first things I noticed when I walked into AS220 was how welcoming and friendly everyone was to me, a complete outsider to the world of poetry. This is probably the most comfortable and non-judgmental space I have ever been in in my entire life and it gave me the best feeling inside. This would definitely be the safe space that August depicts and explains that every child should experience in schools. Obviously, I was not in a school setting; certainly far from it. But this was still a safe space where no one was judged for their race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, economic status, or any other unfortunate stereotype you could think of. Whenever a new poet was finished with their piece, the crowd would collectively yell “Please come back!!!” When that happened the first time (it occurred many times throughout the night) I was genuinely pleased and shocked at the same time. Here we are, a huge group mixed with strangers and friends, and everyone is beyond supportive and encouraging no matter what. If that doesn’t give you a warm fuzzy feeling inside, I don’t know what will! August would approve of AS220 and its extra-inclusive atmosphere.
            Throughout the night I could not stop myself from thinking about the dominant ideologies described in SCWAAMP. I was technically forced to think of them because they were utterly apparent when the poets were performing. Every piece heard that night had something to do with straightness, Christianity, whiteness, American-ness, able-bodied-ness, maleness, or property ownership, and sometimes, multiple points at one time! These beliefs are most valued in our culture, but I noticed that each slam had something to do with these values being detrimental to the poet’s life in some way. There was one female poet that combined most of these troublesome values so eloquently in her slam that the whole audience demanded and encore. She expressed the many hardships she had to endure because she was not straight, not Christian, Hispanic, not “technically” American, and a female. I started to feel sorry for her and her struggles, but I realized towards the end of her piece that she was not looking for sympathy whatsoever; she was proving her strength and resilience to the awful ways of the world.
      I also noticed that evening that there is a direct connection between people’s private and public identities. Rodriguez felt that it was better to sacrifice your private identity in order to uphold your public identity, but he was obviously not at the slam when he decided this. These poets are able to balance both identities and sometimes combine the two, quite successfully. What they experience off stage is brought to the stage in the form of a poem, and when they leave that stage they can continue to be whoever they choose. For those few minutes that they are in front of that microphone, in front of all those comforting and unfamiliar faces, they can be, and are, anything and anyone they want to be. Their work brings the whole room into a new and unexplored realm, and for those few minutes we become one mind. We see what they see, hear what they hear, and more importantly feel exactly what they feel. There is no need for exclusion of separate identities when it is possible to combine the two into something wonderful.                              
            After doing some research about the different slam teams and competitions, I came across a website that had many different resources for poets.
            Youth Speaks is a non-profit organization that promotes youth development through spoken word presentations around the country. One of the three links on the homepage is to Youth Speaks Bay Area. This is based in the Bay Area of California, where this organization all began. The main goal of Youth Speaks is to educate and empower children and teens to realize the power in their own voices, literally and figuratively. They promote presentations that teach youth how to make themselves heard, as in getting their point across creatively and effectively. They also make themselves heard by learning presentation skills and tactics to attract their audiences.
            Another link is to Brave New Voices, a national stage dedicated to hearing the voices of youth across the nation, while challenging their stories against other teams in the competition. Created by Youth Speaks, BNV is devoted to youth that want and need to let their voices be heard. Many youth slam poetry teams across the country form local competitions to see which team will reach “final stage” at the BNV festival that year, including Providence Youth Poetry.
            A third link from Youth Speaks is to The Living Word Project. The Living Word Project is a theater company derived from Youth Speaks that performs stories experienced by its members through poetry, dance, illustrations, and films. Their main purpose is to convey the importance of spoken word and not let it become a thing of the past. They encourage the use of performance and spoken word to educate others, while empowering its performers to share their experiences.        
        The common theme of these organizations, if you have not already picked up on it, is to empower the next generation to share, educate, and expand their life experiences. It is all about creating safe spaces around the country to those who are deprived of such, as well as for those who are unaware that such spaces exist, in order to promote and inspire youth to be leaders; be powerful; be heard and make a difference for others.

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