Friday, May 15, 2009

More Than A Movement


Our final paper due for my Magazine Article Writing class had to be a feature story of 1500 words. I opted to do my piece on the youth poetry movement. I would love you ever so much if you took the time to read this and give me sincere feedback. It was the final so I didn't get any word back from the teacher. I received a B+ in the class, so I guess I didn't do too bad. However, that's not an A+, so there clearly was room for improvement. Here it is. Tell me what you think:

“My vagina is not your walk-in closet. You wanna stuff your unmentionables through me, want a place to hang up your insecurities… want me to keep track of your hand-me downs and Prada, wear me for every occasion then put me back behind closed doors in the darkness.”

These were just some of the words spoken by Alysia Harris, a twenty year old Philadelphia youth poet, before she walked off the stage. You wouldn’t know that she was crying unless you followed her into the bathroom and saw the tears running down her face. To the naked eye, she was just competing in one of the many poetry slams she participates in, and the lights within the restaurant were dim. What the restaurants ambience failed to capture was the fact that she had just broken up with her boyfriend of two years due to his disregard for her feelings and blatant disrespect. As a poet, Alysia relives the emotion of any poem she writes every time she performs it. The quote mentioned above is just an excerpt from “That Girl”, a poem where she explains that she refuses to be in her partner’s life, if only, at their convenience.

Alysia is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Linguistics. She has been writing since she was 6 year old. After seeing the My Little Ponies cartoon series turned movie, she couldn’t help but wonder what happened to the ponies after they left the screen. That is when she began writing short stories. Her writing matured some odd years later, and she began performing her poetry at age seventeen. During her freshman year at UPenn, she auditioned for Excelano Project, a spoken word collective that provides students with a space where they can write poems and then share them on a larger scale within the community. Alysia hasn’t looked back since.

As she puts it, “Poetry is how I see the world broken up into bits and fragments reflected partially through different forms and figures. Everything in my life resembles something else and these connections allow me to make accusations of reality and sort of find truth.”

Alysia is just one of the many youth poets throughout the nation who have found strength in the power of their voice. There are others within her domain such as Jonathon “Korim” Sterling, Hannah Adams and Carvens Lissaint: each one of them hailing from different states within the United States, all directly affected by poetry. They all use their craft as a means to express themselves. However, there is another experience that ties the majority of these poets together. That experience is the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival, also known as BNV. BNV is an annual six-day event where the top poets and spoken word artists, ages 13-19, gather together to compete in poetry performance. They also attend world-class workshops led by renowned spoken word artists and poets and participate in youth development programs. This experience means many things to all involved, whether it be the competing participants or the general audience.

For Jonathon “Korim” Sterling, Austin’s Youth Slam Champ two years in a row, BNV was an opportunity to learn and write about things he wasn’t particularly familiar with. In 2007, Korim’s last time participating in BNV, he was the leader of his slam team. As a result, he wrote 11 of the 13 group pieces they had to learn and perform. It is his belief that this generation will be the one that vastly affects those who come after us.

“I believe that this generation is the second coming of Christ. We have the same characteristics. We take the role of the common man, give voices to people without voice, aren’t afraid to say we’re here and we represent something greater than ourselves. Any other movement of art is always based on whatever someone can do, but youth poets realizes that it’s beyond us,” he declares.

Korim always had an affinity for poetry. He started off reading love letters online at age 13 and began writing them for his first love soon after. At 14, he wrote a poem about his father, and his mother urged him to read it publicly. At the time, he didn’t understand the importance of it, but he is greatly appreciative of the support and love his mother has expressed for what he does. Nonetheless, Korim’s story is a bit different from the poets he met at BNV.

At 16, Korim graduated from high school and moved to California planning to live on his own. While there, he got involved with the wrong crowd, lost sight of himself, and lost his way within the poetic world. He spent some time hopping through various poetry dens and lounges within Los Angeles and Hollywood, but he moved back to Texas a year later. Upon his return, he reclaimed his status with poetry, competed in BNV, and went on to participate in Texas’ Adult Slam. To date, he is the youngest poet to be titled the Adult Texas Slam Champ. Since then, Korim has moved to the East Coast, featured at the NuYorican Poet’s Café and performed at the Apollo Theater. As expressed by him, the time he spent in California was spent chasing something he didn’t have. Now, he uses the gift that he does have to take him places. Nonetheless, Korim is not the only person who has allowed their poetic talent to take them away from home.

Hannah Adams, a nineteen year old Buddhist inspired Jewish vegan (as told by her) and Boston native, moved to Philadelphia to attend school at Temple University. She participated in BNV last year as a part of Boston’s Youth Slam Team, but this year she wanted to be on the team who won BNV in 2007. While competing in the final slam to determine who would make the team, Hannah kept expressing how uneasy she was about performing. Ironically, auditioning for Boston’s team didn’t make her nervous at all. At that time, she didn’t know what to expect and wasn’t sure how to gauge her competition. When off stage now, she just appears to be a bundle of nerves. However, the second she steps on stage, she begins to perform through squinted eyes and clinched fists. Her bamboo earrings rock almost as much as her arms do and for a moment, you may forget that you’re listening to words delivered by a Jewish girl from Boston.

Hannah began writing as soon as she was able to, and at age 15 she began performing. Initially, she performed poems on topics she had heard other poets recite. When performing, her main focus was the audience’s reaction, but she soon realized that she didn’t have any real incite on the ideas she discussed. After taking some time to work on her poetry, she realized that honest and personal poetry gave way to a bigger connection with the audience. That lesson may be the reason she made it into Philadelphia’s Youth Slam Team and was also titled this year’s slam champ.

Greg “Just Greg” Corbin, Philadelphia Youth Slam Team’s coach, mentor and founder, is very proud of the team he is taking to BNV for 2009. He has been involved in the youth poetry movement for over 10 years, and he is greatly influenced/inspired by their growth. Whether dealing with the craft directly or generally speaking, he admits that they have taught him to be more honest with his words and seek truth.

“Poetically speaking, it’s one big community and collaboration of positive energy heading in a direction of encouragement, enlightenment, and empowerment,” he says.

Carvens Lissiant, a New York native, is another poet who pays close attention to the impact words have on the audience. Though Carvens has never attended BNV, since the age of 16, his poetic life has consisted of “200% passion”. He had always been involved in the arts whether it be through singing or acting, but it wasn’t until he attended an open mic at UrbanWord NYC that he noticed poetry as another forum for him to express himself. With that, he began studying the way people performed, watching poets on YouTube, and writing often. After familiarizing himself with the art, he decided to perform at the next UrbanWord open mic. In his opinion, poetry is a tool that comes through him, not to him.

“Whatever God or being is up there putting talents into certain people and manifesting it appointed poetry as my way of coming out to the world. So, it’s beyond speaking for yourself. It’s speaking for the universe.”

Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, a playwright, performance poet, video consultant, anthropologist, and associate professor at Temple University couldn’t agree with his statement more. In her opinion, it is most important to do what you feel.

“You should have multiple talents. I can write for anything… TV, radio, technology, etc. I love it all, but if you ask me what I want on my tombstone, the answer would be poet”, she affirmed.

Though Kimmika is not within the age bracket of the present generation, she too understands the importance of poetry as it affects those involved. For some people, poetry can be seen as a hobby or interest. For others, poetry is a way of life. This generation has taken poetry and molded it into a forum that allows them to be heard and get their points across while serving a greater purpose. When it comes to Alysia, her feelings are straightforward.

She stated simply, “Poetry is my life's blood. When I’m not creating and giving back to this world through my words, I don’t feel like I’m living.”

[So, Whatcha think?
Did it keep your attention the whole time?]

Be Honest,


  1. You definitely deserved an A. Aside from one or two grammatical oddities, it was extremely well written. I wanted to meet every person you mentioned face to face. It was almost as if you brought each one alive with their own quote.

    Something I think that would have improved the essay (or at least something that I wish I could've read) was how this movement affected the audiences, the listeners. Yes, you were illustrating some faces behind the movement, but a movement is about both the mover and the moved. It would've been great to discuss the power of poetry over those who don't consider themselves poets but are fond of it for some reason. Ya know, people who attend these slams...for everyone in the audience is not a writer but can surely be "encouraged, enlightened, and empowered." With your love for detail and precision, you would've definitely illustrated that aspect rather well too!

    All in all, I loved it. I could've read on for days. Shoot, I'd love to be the subject of a feature story written by B.Harg one day. :D

    -Chucked Deuce and Twice the Love-

  2. Personally, I belief it was absolutely fine and dandy. I love reading about the diff poets and their story behind their passion, most of all I love your writing angle. Read just like an article straight out of a magezine. IDK wut the teacher was thinking...guess they aren't big on poetry :-/

  3. oh and I agree with the first comment. You could've def delved more into the reason behind the moment and its effects on others, besides the ones behind the voices.

  4. Nancy Garcia MedinaJune 21, 2009 at 7:50 PM

    Poetry is just about one of the best things out there for the human being. It helps us express ourselves and we talk about LIFE through metaphors, similies and verse. But some say it literally, others lyricaly. It doesn't matter because it's all about that musicality, that flowetry... that poetry. And these young Brave New Voices have been heard.

  5. i love the poem "that girl" by alysia harris , do you have the words to the whole poem ? can you email me them ? . or message me on myspace.