Young poets show their stuff

The young voices of Milwaukee had their moment in the spotlight to speak their minds, which is all they wanted.

It’s called a spoken word poetry slam, something many young people in Milwaukee and elsewhere have embraced a stimulating form of expression for their generation.

According to Dasha Kelly, organizer and host of the Milwaukee competition to select state winners to compete in the Brave New Voices spoken word festival that has been held since 2006, the young poets who competed last Saturday night at the Wisconsin Teen Poetry Slam finals take their craft very seriously.

“These kids really want to be very good at what they do,” said Kelly about the dozens of high-school age Milwaukee students from both public and private schools in the area who showed up at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center at 325 W. Walnut St. to compete.

“They take their poetry very seriously because it’s their way of expressing themselves.”

The poetry slam held at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center involved about 30 poets taking the stage before an enthusiastic audience of teachers, parents and fellow poets and friends. The performances were judged by a panel. (I was a judge; some in the crowd thought I was a bit harsh in my scores. I get that a lot.)

The poems, a mix of spoken word pieces delivered in front of microphone, were personal observations and commentary about their young lives. The packed crowd responded with a mixture of applause and yes, even hipster finger snaps when a piece of material really hit home.

One teenaged girl talked about scrutinized for her form-fitting outfits that obscured her real image to the outside world. She also talked about being raped.

An angry sounding young man spoke of physical abuse from his father and a culture that promoted violence in the home.

Another male described what he called his “white trash” background, living in abject poverty and being ashamed of his family’s lack of income.

Another poet talked about being a Muslim and the way society looked at her because of her religion.

There were poems about racism, sexual orientation, violence and romantic relationships. Many of the poems were deeply personal and almost intrusive  while delivered in a dramatic fashion designed to increase the impact of the words.

It was hard to tell if every poem was 100 percent truth or the artistic interpretations by the young impressionable minds, a multicultural group of young African-Americans, whites, Asians and Latinos.

Kelly noted some of the young poets were prone to get carried away at times during their time on stage. But the material had been gleaned from the reality of their lives and transformed into often searing commentary.

Each year, the teens compete in poetry slams throughout the school year in hopes of advancing to state finals and, ultimately, becoming one of the six teens to represent Wisconsin at the upcoming BNV Festival.

The 2013 Wisconsin Brave New Voices team selected last Saturday are:

Jonnie Dixon, junior, Milwaukee High School of the Arts; Alea McHatten, sophomore, Reagan High; Mikey Murry, junior, Milwaukee High School of the Arts; Alex Appleton, junior, West HS (Madison); Adrian Conner, junior, East HS (Madison); and Denzel Taylor, freshman, Carroll University.

They were the ones chosen to take Milwaukee’s young voices to a national competition. Judging on what I saw last Saturday night, they will be more than able to hold their own. 

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