Young Poets Take Angst, Emotions To The Stage | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

WAMU 88.5 : Metro Connection

Filed Under:

Young Poets Take Angst, Emotions To The Stage

Play associated audio
Jonathan B. Tucker is a poet and D.C. Youth Slam Team coach.
Jonathan Wilson
Jonathan B. Tucker is a poet and D.C. Youth Slam Team coach.

Eric Powell is sitting in front of three poetry coaches interviewing to be a part of the D.C. Youth Poetry Slam Team. He's articulate, but nervous.

"Like any social justice issue that I be talking about, people tell me that I come across as the angry black man, when I'm talking about topics that I'm passionate about," Powell says with a laugh.

Powell, a short 15-year-old from Bowie, Md. in Prince George's County, stands straight as a rod as he recites his poem. He doesn't gesture, and his eyes remain closed most of the time. His performance skills aren't yet as compelling as his writing.

He's already been on the team for one year, and is applying to return for another. He says being around other poets also in the process of discovering what their words can do, is powerful.

"That encouragement, and that family pushing is there," he explains. "You know, that family support. And so we take each other to levels that we didn't even know we could take it to, you know?"

Learning life through poetry

One of the panelists listening to Powell's poem is Jonathan B. Tucker. Tucker grew up in Crofton, Md. and has been writing and performing poetry for 10 years.

He's now the Youth Programs Coordinator for Split This Rock, the arts and social activism collective that runs the youth slam team. He's coached the team for the past 2 years and says it's about more than writing and performance.

"If you can remember back to high school, it didn't always feel like a safe environment," Tucker says. "There was always somebody ready to judge you for something that you chose to do. And so bringing a bunch of teenagers together, to share their personal stories, their creative writing in a team atmosphere, and to create such a supportive network of creative individuals ready to share this stuff, it's really amazing; it's something outside of the lived experience of a high school."

One Sunday, in a small room at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street, Tucker warms up the crowd.

"Y'all feeling good? "If y'all ready for a poem, say yeah!"

The crowd is made up of aspiring teenage poets, family members, and friends. Sitting in the row of upcoming performers facing the crowd is Thomas Hill. He's a sophomore at Magruder High School in Montgomery County, and goes by the name "Vocab" on stage.

Hill is auditioning to be on next year's slam team, but he says it took some time for him to get used to the idea of sharing his poetry with a team.

"I wouldn't tell anybody that I wrote poetry because I didn't want to get teased," Hill says, "And then I came to a Split This Rock event, and Jonathan broke me out of my shell."

For so many of us, Thomas Hill's first experience with poetry — solitary, personal, isolating — is the image that sticks. We think of Emily Dickinson locked in her bedroom.

But at a performance like this one, it's easy to see why the team concept helps budding poets grow.

Healing through poetry and a community

Poet Sarah Browning is the director of Split This Rock. "Poets always need community, no matter who they are and how they write," she says. "Some are very solitary, but others, like myself, I've always worked best even if I'm not in a formal team, but in a community of ideas and active members of our greater community."

Eric Powell says writing honest poems can be painful, and being a part of a team can help you fight through that pain.

"It's cool if you're making pieces for yourself, just to vent, like a private journal or a diary," Powell says, "But if you're going through some real stuff, some heavy stuff, it's good to surround yourself with some positive people, and that's what you have in the D.C. Youth Slam team."

You can see some of the area's best young poets on Saturday evening at the 2013 DC Youth Slam Team Grand Slam Finals. That'll be from 4-6 pm at the GALA Hispanic theatre in Columbia Heights.


Jonathan's story was informed by WAMU's Public Insight Network. It's a way for people to share their stories with us and for us to reach out for input on upcoming stories.
For more information, click this link.


[Music: "Slam (Album Version - Edited)" by Onyx from Boom Box Flava]

Photos: Poetry Slam

NPR

Buzz Bissinger: With Caitlyn Jenner, 'You Feel A Connection'

NPR's Melissa Block interviews Buzz Bissinger about his profile of Caitlyn Jenner in Vanity Fair and her gender transition. She is formerly known as Bruce, an Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon.
NPR

Grass Gourmands: A Herbivore Food Mystery On The African Savanna

A new study sheds light on a longstanding ecological question: How do so many species like impalas and elephants co-exist when they're all feeding on the same limited foods?
NPR

House Panel Questions Air Bag Manufacturer About Chemical Explosive It Uses

Lawmakers wanted to know more about the recall of some 34 million vehicles that have potentially defective air bags made by the Takata Corporation. Congress wants to know what caused the problem.
NPR

Experts Debate: Will Computers Edge People Out Of Entire Careers?

Machines have been taking jobs forever. Computers and software are doing things people were paid to do. They are booking airplane flights. Filing our taxes. And they are getting better all the time.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.