29 August 2014

My Day with Brave New Voices

Image via Youth Speaks.

Earlier this summer, fifty-five teams competed at this year's Brave New Voices festival, hosted by Philadelphia.

Brave New Voices (BNV) is an international poetry slam, and the competition is centred around young people, their potential, and their abilities.

It was the first poetry slam I ever attended, even though I've been fascinated with poetry for the past five years. And, it was so much funIf I felt like I could handle the commitment in addition to all of my other responsibilities, I would be far more willing to form a team on my own.

I watched two different slams on Friday, July 18th, with four of my best friends. Unfortunately, members of the audience weren't permitted to take photos or videos of the performances. (Sorry about that.) Luckily, though, you can watch BNV's coverage of the event here.


BNV '14

This year's teams were from North America and Bermuda. Each slam was composed of five teams.

The first slam I attended was from 12:30 to 14:30 at a venue named Underground Arts. I honestly forget where the second slam was held, but it lasted from 15:00 to 17:00.

You can visit Underground Arts's website here.
Image via OCF Realty.

The two slams I watched featured teams from San Francisco, Chapel Hill, Bermuda, Richmond, Toronto, and Flint. There were four other teams, but I can't recall where they were from.

It's a matter of subject.

Some people, including a couple of my friends, described the subject matter of the poetry as dark or depressing. I would rather describe the poems as genuine, realistic, or straightforward. Sure, the poems sorted through difficult concepts, but I really appreciated how directly and honestly they were written. They exposed the true emotions and dangers of each topic that was introduced.

Speaking of which, it was emotional. Really emotional. A lot of competitors took more time to recite their poetry because of how hard it was to do. They would cry or turn away from the audience because of how challenging it was to finish performing a particularly personal piece.

But the best part was how the audience reacted. If a performer's poem was relatable and sincere, they would snap their fingers or say "Mm." A painful poem, like one that explored the topics of abuse or neglect, might receive an "Ooh." Often, if a performer paused mid-poem to cry or gather themselves, the audience would patiently offer support by rubbing their hands and then holding both out with the palms facing the stage. (If that's a confusing picture, imagine rubbing your palms together and holding them out over a fire to warm them. It was basically the same motion.)

Other topics that the poems focused on include mental illness, sexuality and LGBT issues, self-harm, divorce, death of a loved one, bullying, self-acceptance, and feminism.

Not all poems were dismal. A lot were very funny, with extremely hilarious content that earned the performers a standing ovation (whoops and cheers and applause included).


Other aspects:

The coordinator of the first slam frequently expressed his mantra of "F*ck censorship" in between poems (especially following a performance that used a lot of swear words). He would say it into the microphone and then the teammates and audience members would echo it to him. This man also ended the slam by spontaneously performing a spoken word poem about his father, which was a special treat for us.

Not to mention, this man is the same one who forced every team and audience member to participate in a "30-second dance party" about halfway through the slam. It was fun.

Before each slam, a person who wasn't affiliated with any of the teams recited a poem that was to be used throughout the slam as a "standard" for the judges to use against each teammate's poem. In the second slam, the poem was about the performer's Mexican heritage and his childhood in Arizona.

If somebody performed a difficult poem that left him or her crying and breathless, typically his or her teammates would greet him or her at the side of the stage, have a big and tearful group hug, and then return together to their seats.

As each slam progressed I could definitely sense how close-knit each team truly was. These people were families. They cared for and supported one another, and taught each other the value of one another.

The best part is the way that teams support other teams, too. The Toronto team was a prime example: before almost every poet, they would holler, "Let's go [performer's city's name], let's go!" and then they would clap or stomp three times. Before long, the other teams would begin to do this of their own accord, without having to join in with Toronto first.

Another of my favourite aspects of BNV was the "poetry terminology" that these competitors used. It was a dialect of its own -- kind of like a jargon. For instance, when a performer approached the stage, members of the audience (as well as poets who were and were not a teammate of the performer) would give encouragement. My favourite one was when these people would call out to the performer, "Don't be nice!" to tell him or her to show emotion (anger, despair, frustration) and to be as brutally honest as possible.

My experience with BNV was unforgettable. Next time the festival is hosted close to home, I'll try to attend.

Visit Brave New Voice's website here.
Visit Youth Speaks's website here.

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