The Your Voice section of The Poet’s List showcases articles and blog posts written by poets. These pieces may or not be about poetry. Most often, they are on topics with which the poet finds passion. You can find more of these posts, here: Your Voice.
Full Title: Reflecting On BNV: Can You Take Competition Out Of Slam?
By Carlos Robson
I was fortunate enough to see my first Brave New Voices bout a few nights ago. I had for years talked about going but never made it out. BNV, for those who don’t know, is the nation wide youth poetry slam festival run by an organization called Youth Speaks which is hosted each year on a different college campus somewhere in the continental US. This year the festival was hosted on Emory University’s campus in Atlanta and, on Friday night my co-founder here at Eternal Graffiti, Mike Simms, and I were able to catch one of the semi-finals bouts.
Five teams were competing for a spot on Final Stage the following night, they were Asheville, NC, New York City, Columbia, CT, Atlanta, and my own hometown team of Charlotte, NC. In the end, all of the teams brought really terrific work, there wasn’t one team that I didn’t think [thought] skated in. In particular, Atlanta had a team piece that compared baseball to race in America that proved the incredible feat of creating tableau’s in slam, as well as an indie about being an Airbender that was a thinly veiled metaphor for being a black man in America, both were really stunning.
Asheville, NC, (who I so regret never having seen perform before even though they’re only a few hours down the interstate) put up the best work of the night in my personal opinion, including a poem in the voice of a college campus tour guide about rape and coverups in the university system and another called “Lessons From Uncle Tom,” both were breathtaking. (Also, on some Honorable Mention ish, my Charlotte youth coined the phrase “Bippity Boppity Bullshit” and delivered a poem about the Charleston shooting in 36 Haiku that was stunning.)
As I was filled in over tacos and margaritas, (I had water as I don’t do tequila) apparently some years ago HBO produced a documentary series on BNV and a handful of teams as they prepared for the competition. A few years later, they aired just the Final Stage where four teams battled it out for the championship. So I was told, Youth Speaks felt that too much competitive spirit was eroding what they were trying to build among the youth and so they started changing things.
For one, they created a day with no competition at all, a day for workshops and camaraderie, as well as eliminating a day of the festival to help teams with expenses. But they have since found themselves with one day where all teams bout at least twice, starting at 9 in the morning, and should the teams do well enough to make it to a semi-finals they bout again starting at 8 in the evening. I love poetry, and I love slam, but as the semis I attended lasted until almost 11, nothing on planet earth can make me wanna slam over the course of fourteen hours. In my opinion, these young kids’ work is almost being slighted by expecting them to be in performance ready form over the course of such a long and emotional day.
Those I was eating with after the bout I watched the other night included a Founder/Executive Director of one of the more visible youth orgs in the country as well as one of the winningest coaches in slam history, both of whom disagreed with the new slam format.
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