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Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement!
From July 17th through the 21st in San Francisco, the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement (PYPM) was represented on a global scale at the Brave New Voices Poetry Slam. This year’s team consisted of Philadelphia poets Kai Davis, Safiya Washington, Charmira Nelson, Teila Allmond, Aarun Simon and Hiwot Adilow.
PYPM took second place in the this year’s tournament, advancing to the finals for the second year in a row. The slam and festival included a total of 50 other teams from around the world, including Taiwan, Baton Rouge, Leeds, Bermuda, among many others.
Kim-Thao Nguyen of Two.One.Five Magazine interviewed the PYPM team members for the BNV Poetry Slam in early July, shortly before the 2012 Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam in San Francisco took place. (Interview transcribed by Anthony Perillo.)
Two.One.Five: What kind of work have you guys been doing all year to prepare for the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam?
Hiwot – We’ve all been doing individual slams and some of us have been a part of Slam League. Doing all of that has gotten us somewhat prepared for being on the team with each other.
Kai – Also, we’ve been going to workshops with [Perry] “Vision” [DiVirgilio] and Jamarr [Hall] every Saturday. All that workshopping definitely helps.
215: Did anyone in the team start performing spoken word for the first time this year?
Teila – This is my first year slamming, and it will also be my last year because I’m 18. That’s the age limit. It was a lot of work and I knew when I started that this would be my last year, so I put a lot into it and I ended up where I am.
215: Are you going to continue doing spoken word poetry even though you’ll no longer be able to compete with PYPM?
Teila – Yeah, definitely. I was writing poetry before, but this was the first time I actually slammed and performed.
Charmira – The poem I performed in the finals was called “Ticks.” It was a persona piece about someone with Tourette’s. It was a really hard piece to write because I had to do research. I don’t have Tourette’s personally, and all I had seen of it was on TV. One thing about persona pieces is that you must have a conversation with someone as the person you are personifying. You need to go really deep into the person’s thoughts, take in how they feel, and what they think about when [individuals] look at them a certain way. When people see someone with Tourette’s, I think they automatically [have the tendency] to insult them. The whole purpose of “Ticks” was to prove that just because someone has a disability doesn’t make them not human.
Aarun – My piece at last year’s finals was about my mom. I don’t like talking about my mom because of the whole situation with her leaving when I was young. I know practicing the piece wasn’t like what happened on stage. I think once I got on stage, I just let all of my [emotions] go. I cried. Once I finished, it felt a little bit like a huge weight was taken off my shoulders.
Safiya – Last year, I performed a persona poem about short-term memory loss. I actually developed the idea with Kai. One of the things I do with persona pieces is that I focus on details. Originally, my poem was about 7 minutes long, but for slam purposes, we only have 3 minutes and 30 seconds. I had to trim things down, so that everything was to the point and so that [the audience] could still understand what was going on.
Teila – My piece was about my father and my relationship with him. He died when I was a year old, it’s been 18 years [since his death]. I was always asking myself how he would feel about my sexuality and if he would be accepting of me.
Kai – My poem was basically me telling an [anonymous] person what it will be like to love someone who has been raped before. It was one of those pieces where I didn’t know how to approach it exactly. Then, one day I just sat in the corner and wrote it. When it came time for me to workshop a performance of the piece, I kept running from it because it was so hard to say. I think it was one of those pieces where saying it aloud makes [the issue a bit] easier to deal with now.
Hiwot – I performed a poem at finals last year about my name. I’ve always had bad experiences with meeting people. Sometimes, people will say, “Oh, that name is really difficult,” (even though it’s only five letters long). Instead of taking the time to learn how to pronounce my name, people have always tried giving me a nickname to replace my name. It became really frustrating and also very hurtful because I knew where my name came from. My name means “life.” My dad told me the story of why he named me Hiwot, and I just thought of how tired I am of people butchering and trying to change my name.
215: A lot of high school kids love rap, and I don’t know a lot of high school kids who do poetry. What calls you guys to poetry, and to be up there without music?
Aarun – For me, from a very young age, music and specifically rap and hip hop have been a huge part of my life. The thing I noticed, from actually doing it, and being an emcee and a rapper, it’s like you’re not allowed to be as honest when you’re doing rap. It’s almost like, you can say something honest, but then you have to back it up with chains and cars and stuff but, with poetry you’re just allowed to state your thoughts and state how you feel about something, and it doesn’t have to be all dressed up with all this glamour, so that’s why I’ve been gravitating toward poetry. I still do music though. I’m making beats, and I write songs occasionally. But I’m definitely gravitating more toward poetry.
Hiwot – I had a rap career in the 7th grade, but it kind of fell off (everyone laughs) . . . but I’ve always written poetry. I tried rapping, and it didn’t really work out.
Jamarr Hall – I’m a coach now, for the 2012 team, and hopefully the years to come. And I’m a previous member of the team. I’m one of the champions of the 2011 Brave New Voices Team. I started rapping, it started off as a poem, but it was too fast to be considered a poem, and it had a rhythm to it, so I just called it a rap. I started doing poetry because I was a failed rapper when I was younger. It was kind of my safety net, fall back on poetry. I can say it slower, and people snap for you, and good stuff like that. And I feel as though poetry is almost the root of all art. It gives you meaning, whenever you’re trying to express yourself. Whether it’s through a painting, or spoken word, or you know whether you wanna sleep in all day: but if you start off as a poet, you’re gonna have some awesome dreams! (everyone laughs) Y’all know that’s true!
Kavi Ade – I don’t want to give this impression that all poets are failed rappers! I know a lot of kids who write. They don’t necessarily have to call it poetry – even if it’s just journaling, they write. I think it’s just like. Basically, when you find out a kid writes, you just want to kind of bring them into PYPM. Whenever we get more kids involved, then you see how amazing they are, really. There are so many kids out there who you would never expect are writers, but they are. It’s just that motivation to actually start performing, or doing something more with it other than just keeping it in their notebooks.
“Vision” – I would say that a lot of the kids, they take awhile to claim being poets. Saying you’re a rapper is the cool safety net around your neighborhood. In my own personal experience, growing up, it took me awhile to be like, “yo, I’m a poet.” So my friends wouldn’t judge me, I would sneak off to the open mic venues, so that they wouldn’t judge me, and then I went back and I would be like, “Yo, I went to go get some girl real quick.” That girl was poetry. So a lot of times you’ll see like, emcees at [PYPM] Workshops, or songwriters at [PYPM] Workshop. They might not write poems all the time, but they’re there to learn to be a better writer so they can write songs, so they can write hip hop. You know, “rap” stands for “rhythm and poetry,” so it’s all under that umbrella anyway.
215: Do you guys feel that your work with PYPM is affecting other parts of your life, enriching it or making things somehow difficult?
Aarun – My other friends aren’t cool as these guys [speaking of his fellow PYPM peers]. (everyone laughs)
Safiya – I think it’s interesting because my work with PYPM has affected other parts of my life. When I went away for
college, one of my primary goals was finding some kind of slam movement there. I knew if there wasn’t one there, then I would have to create it. Not because I can’t travel to Philly every week [in order to write and perform] because I do, but I think it’s something that everyone needs.
Hiwot – I definitely feel like PYPM has affected other aspects of my life, even when I was going to PYPM events and sitting in the audience. I was deeply affected then by PYPM, too. When I went back to school, I decided to start a poetry club there, back when I didn’t even know anyone involved in PYPM. I think that if you can be affected that much when everyone’s a stranger to you, that really says a lot.
Kai – I feel like PYPM has given me a lot of confidence and opened me up to new experiences, not just with poetry but with [everything in general].
Charmira – With PYPM, it just gives you an opportunity to become someone never thought you could be. I’ve been a part of PYPM since 2009 and I’d say through the years, I’ve grown as a person and as a poet.
For more information on the Philly Youth Poetry Movement, please visit: http://phillyyouthpoets.org/.