Youth Poets Turn Up the Volume

. April 16, 2018.
19 Writers Competed for Poetry Slam Title
19 Writers Competed for Poetry Slam Title

Spring is finally, finally starting to show its face in Ann Arbor, and with the return of red-chested robins comes the highly anticipated poetry slam season for Washtenaw County teens. The competition began in March with a series of four preliminary bouts at Pioneer, Huron, Community, and Washtenaw International High School. Nineteen poets moved onto finals, hosted at The Neutral Zone on Thursday, April 12th. Teens competed for one of six spots on the Youth Poetry Slam Teen where they will travel to Chicago this summer for a national youth poetry institute.

The point is not the points

The event was hosted by Molly Raynor, Literary Arts director at the Neutral Zone. Judges for the evening included local writers Dylan Gilbert, Fiona Chamness, Marlin Jenkins, Franny Choi, and Daniel Bigham. The poetry slam featured two rounds, with ten poets moving onto the second round. In each round, the poets read original work with a time limit of three minutes, and the judges assigned a score of 0-10 to each poem, with 10 being the highest. Unlike in adult poetry slams, and in order de-emphasize the competitive element of the evening, scores were not read aloud. Alex Kime, leader of the Neutral Zone’s Riot Youth program and MC for the slam, was sure to remind the audience, “the point isn’t the points, the point is sharing,” an important message to remember when participating in, and attending, poetry slams. That being said, poetry slams are a great way for poets to bond with other writers in the community and often motivate them to create their best work. At the end of the day, it’s really not about how a poem scores, but the fun and excitement of participating in the reading.

Words that heal

No doubt the judges had their work cut out for them this year. From start to finish, area youth poets demonstrated they did not come to play. In the face of our country’s current climate, their writing tackled a wide range of experiences regarding injustice and adversity. From racism and gentrification to rape culture, body shaming, and mental illness, Ann Arbor high schoolers spoke their truths in volumes.

Even with the diversity in their writing, teens still tended to share a similar theme: standing strong against oppression, and reclaiming themselves. “Scars remind me that my ancestors, my culture, will forever be healing,” read Serena Varner of Washtenaw International High School. And the night, in many ways, was an evening of healing. Karley Misek’s piece Recovery expressed that “the hardest part of recovery is finding out what you’re recovering from.”

Despite the hardships many writers have faced, they managed to share their hopes and an undying strength. Sam Kass, Pioneer High School junior who wrote of struggling with OCD, spoke of her fear “weakness will become habit” but how she is, instead, intent to “make survival a habit.” Erica Mcdonald, Pioneer senior, found power in herself and the women around her, proclaiming, “she is bathed in resilience and she’ll make it alright.”

And the 2018 Ann Arbor Youth Poetry Slam Team is…

The six poets who will make up Ann Arbor’s 2018 Youth Slam Team are Karley Misek, Anika Love, Aldo Pando Girard, Hasna Ghalib, Thea Rowe, and this year’s Ann Arbor Youth Poetry Slam Champion, Serena Varner.

After the slam Hasna, a sophomore at Pioneer and affectionately known as “the Icon,” (and with her confidence and fierce attitude, it’s easy to see why), expressed her admiration for all the writers in the slam. Amidst her post-poetry performance euphoria and contagious enthusiasm, she cited her writing inspiration as poet Safia Elhillo, and her mom. Her ultimate playlist for poetry (and life) includes Daniel Caesar, SZA, and Frank Ocean.

Trending

Film Review: “The Favorite”

Cynical, absurd, and fiercely entertaining “The Favorite” is one of the best films of 2018. Dark, twisted, nihilistic, and hilarious, “The Favourite” follows Queen Anne, Lady Sarah Churchill, and a new arrival in court, Abigail Masham, through court intrigue so perilous that it makes “Dangerous Liaisons” seem Disneyesque. “The Favourite” takes place in England during

The Art of Paying Attention

Mother and son make high art of “the tiny majority” We live in an age of attention deficit disorder, surrounded and distracted by devices, games, apps, and ads competing for our eyeballs and mouse clicks. But if we pay attention, a pair of artists, Karen Ann Klein and her son Barrett Klein, show us the

Mad as a Hatter

A search for the original Origin stories, for superheroes, famous people and more, have always been popular in the movie and TV business, but book characters rarely get the same treatment. Local actor, director and playwright Michael Herman’s new play, “Mad as a Hatter”, produced by the Roustabout Theatre Troupe from April 4th-20th at the

DuPont’s Floodplains Flows Onward

Water can be purifying, it can clean and soothe and nourish. It can also be something so formidable as to wear its way through soil and rock. Fittingly, then, Chris DuPont has titled his forthcoming album Floodplains, evoking a subtle but potent force of nature where a river mimics the unpredictable bends of life, depositing