Friday, 27 April 2012

Poetry slam to pick teens for competition in San Francisco

Poetry slam to pick teens for competition in San Francisco

Published: Thursday, April 26, 2012, 3:00 PM

FLINT, MI—Danielle Horton, a freshman at Classical Academy, seems like a poetry prodigy in the making—she began getting noticed in school in seventh grade, and an impromptu performance during a student tour of University of Michigan earned her an invitation to work with a group at the school. But she's a bit nervous for Saturday—her first official poetry slam carries a chance to travel across the country to compete with young poets from all over the world.
"People told me not to be nervous, just to give it my all," Horton said. "Every judge has their own favorites and things they like and look for, so don't write to please the judge: write for you. If you give it your all and do it for you, the judges will feel you."
Horton is one of what organizers estimate will be a field of 20-plus poets that will compete at Buckham Gallery on Saturday, April 28 to land a spot on Flint's Brave New Voices poetry team and perform in San Francisco, Calif. She has been attending workshops downtown for the past few weeks to hone her writing and performance skills to boost her chances.
The team is part of Raise It Up! Youth Arts & Awareness, an organization that was officially founded by Flint poet Natasha "Theory" Thomas-Jackson in 2005—and began getting grants from Ruth Mott Foundation in 2009—to give structure to the poetry and community workshops she was doing for schools and churches with poetry group Neo-Griot. Teens last year had expressed interest in the Brave New Voices competition—the show was taken on by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons for a special on HBO, and celebrities like Common, Rosario Dawson and Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) have been involved in past years.
After convincing Brave New Voices organizers that Flint deserved its own team instead of joining Detroit, Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti, they hosted a competition and raised about $10,000 to pay for the transportation, food and lodging for six poets—four competitors, and two reserves. Thomas-Jackson remembers many of the kids being shy when they arrived as first-time travelers, but they loosened up as they spent more time out.
"They had a lot of questions about why people looked and talked a certain way. 'Why are they hugging us, we don't know them,'" Thomas-Jackson remembers, while she and Program Director Lyndava Williams met with Flint Journal in their new office on S. Saginaw. "By the end of it, they were wide open, talking to other teams and introducing themselves."
JaCquell Price, 20, says that the social skills weren't the only area of improvement that came from participating in the contest. His writing and performance skills were improved as well.
"I've always been a good writer, but it helped me look at different ways to go at a subject...and be more aware about what's going on around me," Price says. "I used to try to avoid writing personal pieces, [but] I don't have all these defense mechanisms [anymore]."
Price can no longer compete since he's out of the age range of 13-19, but he hopes to lend some of those lessons to this year's workshop participants. Last year's qualifying slam was only preceded by other slams, but workshops were implemented this year to help sharpen poets' skills before competition. Horton says that one workshop required here to write about a tomato without using obvious qualifiers and word associations like the color red, or ketchup. She came up with a conceptual poem that analogized tomatoes, which are scientifically considered fruits because of having seeds inside, with vegetables and people of different shapes, colors and sizes. "I may be different on the outside," she explained, "but on the inside, I'm just like you." Price said that the workshops have been refreshing.
"The next generation of poets has to come from somewhere. The workshops give me a chance not to just teach participants, but a chance to help honor their talent," Price said. "I didn't have anybody there to guide me along to [take one approach instead of another], so to help maneuver them around is really great. Seeing all of this young talent really makes me smile."




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