Thinking out loud
Poetry slams give opportunities for verbal self-expression.
February 8, 2018
Striving for cheers and hollers that will punctuate their performances, teens from all over the Bay Area are preparing personal poems for an annual competition that draws a crowd of thousands.
The Youth Speaks Teen Poetry Slam, an individual contest open to all Bay Area youth ages 13 to 19, requires all registrants to have at least two original poems prepared.
Poets will first compete in the Preliminary Bout in February and possibly advance to the Semifinals Bout. After the second round, 12 poets will continue to compete in the Grand Slam Finals in mid-April, according to 19 year-old Jada Imani, an emerging poet mentor at Youth Speaks.
“It’s important that the Slam isn’t based around the diverse group of judges we have,” Imani said. “Instead, it’s centralized around you, the poet, and it’s meant to be a place for you to show your voice and spread your word.”
With about 200 youth performances, the slam usually draws close to 10,000 audience members across Slam Season.
“While Convent is a tight-knit community, we tend to have similar viewpoints on matters which comes from our shared experiences,” Lisabelle Panossian (’17), who has engaged in numerous Youth Speaks opportunities including membership on the Youth Speaks Youth Advisory Board (SPOKES), said. “Youth Speaks brings people around the Bay Area together, where everyone comes from a different culture and with a story.”
Maya Greenhill (’16) was one of the top five scoring poets in the 2016 Slam Season in her senior year. Beginning her journey with Youth Speaks as an audience member on 2015, Greenhill went on to compete in the 2016 Brave New Voices festival in Washington D.C.
“Youth Speaks represents such a unique message,” Panossian said. “Youth Speaks finally gives teens a spotlight in a world where their opinions can be seen as undeveloped and immature.”
Founded in San Francisco to spread the power of spoken word through artistic expression, Youth Speaks aims to bring together as many youth voices as possible.
“As somebody who wants to make an impact with my voice, Youth Speaks really showed me that all of our voices make a difference,” Imani said. “I’ve been able to surround myself with brilliant, like-minded young folk and I owe it all to Youth Speaks.”
In addition to the youth slam, Youth Speaks offers youth a variety of other opportunities to develop artistic skills such as free Under 21 Open Mics and LGBTQ performances for queer youth. Youth Speaks works to celebrate all individuals in an inclusive environment — especially those who may be part of underrepresented demographics, according to Panossian.
“Without Youth Speaks, many teenagers would not have been able to see the beauty that can be made from gathering the courage to share your story in all its messiness, pain and imperfection,” Panossian said. “As Youth Speaks perfectly puts it, ‘because the next generation can speak for itself.’”
Youth Speaks offers teenagers a place to feel vulnerable and to push themselves out of their comfort zone while being supported, according to Imani.
“Even if you don’t see yourself as a person who would ever share written works, Youth Speaks is the perfect place to push you into that realm of courage,” Panossian said. “As writers, we tend to become our worst critics — little do we know that a work that we may find mediocre can have the potential to really leave a positive effect on someone.”
For Information about any Youth Speaks opportunities, visit youthspeaks.org.