Across the country, teens are slamming fresh, poetic rhythms for a chance to perform in the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival (BNV), a five-day event in Washington, D.C. beginning July 12.
Ten South Florida students competed recently in the three-round final poetry slam, Louder Than Life, for a chance to qualify and represent Broward County in the BNV event.
The slam was held at the African- American Research Library and Cultural Center near Fort Lauderdale on April 18.
The six highest scorers were Jasmine Bailey, 19, of Tamarac; Diego Mosquera, 16, of North Lauderdale; Jon Kowalsky, 18, of Hollywood; TP Pearson, 19, of Miami; Yveka Pier, 18, of Fort Lauderdale, and Cierra Robinson, 19, of Sunrise.
The teens qualified to form the team representing Broward County, and will raise the $8,000 to travel to the Brave New Voices event, said Ray Dominguez, 45, founder and executive director of Write Side Poets. All competing teens participate in the poetry and performance workshops facilitated by WSP.
The team’s experiences are being filmed for an HBO documentary scheduled to air in December, Dominguez said.
“The cameras rolled throughout the finals, and will continue on our trip to D.C.,” he said. “This is an exciting opportunity for the kids; a chance of a lifetime.”
Each teen was allowed three minutes and 30 seconds to perform original pieces from their repertoire. Their messages covered topics including HIV/AIDS, faith, suicide, relationships and life. In each round, they were judged on stage presence, rhythm, articulation, tempo and the poem.
“Watching the kids perform on stage likens to my experience as a parent,” Dominguez said. “I know how hard they all try, how much it means to them.
Sometimes they feel that if their performance is off or if they freeze and temporarily lose their words, they have let me down. They have not.”
Dominguez added that most of the teens “come to him from the inner cities” and that “they have a lot to say. I tell them to go for it; they take it to another level and show amazing talent.”
For the Brave New Voices event, the team will perform a group piece that will reflect Broward’s diversity.
“That’s where our strength will lie,” he said. “Yveka will perform in Creole; Diego, in Spanish; Jon, as he performed here, in Yiddish. “
Dominguez said the poems reflect the sometimes grim reality of life in the inner city.
“The piece will be about chalk lines and the bodies that lay within them; the senseless deaths in our communities,” he said.
The Write Side Poets is a non-profit organization designed to gather, inspire, assist, and encourage writers 13 to 24 who desire to speak their own messages through the powerful medium of the spoken word to millions of their urban and suburban peers.
Workshops are held at various locations throughout Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
There will be 400 poets competing from all over the country and Europe, Dominguez said.
Diego’s energetic and edgy performance proved the ideal example of Louder Than Life. A sophomore at Deerfield Beach High School, he developed his interest in writing poetry from his love of and exposure to rap music.
“I soon realized that some of the messages in hip-hop had, over the years, changed,” he said. “It was when I got into some of the older artists like KRS, Run DMC, Public Enemy and even Slick Rock that I discovered a different level of consciousness.
“And when I met Ray, he showed me that every poet has a voice and can say whatever they want and be heard.”
Diego, who uses the stage name el Niño, said he “expresses everything I love about life” through his words. “I just want to make a difference, to inspire, to be remembered.”
Cierra, a journalism major at Florida Atlantic University’s Boca Raton campus, said the inspiration to write can “hit her at any time. I have penned my lyrics on napkins, receipts; in my cell phone and PDA (a personal digital assistant, such as a Blackberry).”
She describes her work as “life poetry; spiritual, awakening and sometimes political.”
Admitting that she was nervous on stage, Jasmine said she “focused on her words. Once I did that, I felt that whatever happens, happens.”
The FAU psychology major, whose work was revered as insightful and healing, said she is “not shy about sharing her personal experiences, her life. I just want people to relate. It’s not about me when I’m on stage, it’s about telling the story.”
The library was pleased with the opportunity to support the youth in this event, according to its interim director, Julie Hunter.
“It was an opportunity for the both of us,” Hunter said. “Poetry is a medium [that] the youth here used not only to express their ideas and concerns, but life’s events that surround them that they may not yet understand.”
She added “I feel good for those that will compete in the Washington, D.C. event.”
For more information about Write Side Poets, the competition, or to make a donation towards the trip’s expenses, contact Ray Dominguez, 954-628-2243, or visit www.writesidepoets.org
Photo by Sumner Hutcheson III. Diego "El Nino" Mosquera