It was dark, and quiet, and the only thing that I could see was a lit stage that became home to teens, who filled the room with poetry and energy. Alongside me sat families and poets waiting for their names to be called, names that would someday be called again for a spot on the New York City team for the National Teen Poetry Slam Championships in San Francisco.
I watched the dream begin as the competition started with roughly 500 poets: teens from all over NYC who shared their stories through their poetry. Some shared thoughts on abstinence, stereotypes, identities, and poetry releases, while others shared stories of people they knew, deceased loved ones, and dark secrets that had poets shedding tears. Like Hannah, a teenager who wrote a poem about her dreadful encounter with an older boy in a janitor closet. I was a part of the teary-eyed crowd when she read it.
The semifinals brought the poetry to a higher level as many strived for a spot in the Grand Slams. There was poetry about HIV, self-esteem, and other countries’ distresses. It was amazing to see how aware today’s youth are of the world and their surroundings. The decisions on which poet to keep became harder and harder, and when some poets did not make it a few of them cried. Other poets, judges, and people from the audience came to console them and the only thing they could say was, “Keep writing, you hear?”
The Grand Slam was out of this world. Backstage I found poets reciting performance pieces together, receiving positive feedback and helpful suggestions. Obviously it was about the poetry and not the competition. When I asked one poet, Laura, about her feelings at that time, she answered philosophically, “There is no time left for doubt, I just have to believe.”
Soon the poets had to slam, and their confidence filled the room. There were numerous topics, and the audience loved it all. When the slams were over and the six poets were chosen, the crowd cracked windows with applause. Brian, Aja Monet, Maya Williams, Kesed Ragin, Erica Buddington, and Jaylene Clark were to represent the teen poets of New York at the Brave New Voices national championships in San Francisco.