Over the course of six preliminaries, four semifinals, and one grand slam final, confined in a region of five boroughs and in a mere three weeks, Urban Word NYC hosted its 7th annual teen poetry slam, providing the networking space for a cesspool of eclectic, vintage youth, and future revolutionaries.
As the series started, teen poets and the all-ages audience were entranced by the romantic allure of teen slam poetry. The slam appeared to be a time where young social geniuses would be given the stage to reveal the meaning of life in tight, urban prose that would leave all metaphorically lifted—poets could showcase their lyrical talents in front of a panel of top exec judges and leave the night with a record contract and royalties for their freestyles.
But that made-for-the-movies scenario is romantics, not teen poetry. The first afternoon at the Dance Theater Workshop in Manhattan turned into a drawn out, monotonous drone of enigmatic, repetitive profanity, performance gimmicks, and beat-less freestyles. The audience initially appeared packed, but one soon realized over eighty percent of them would be rocking the mike in the competition that day.
Nonetheless, a few heartfelt pieces received well due ovation. Maya Williams’ piece “Niggah” put youth “revolutionaries” in check with the derogatory-turned-colloquial term, while other memorable performers were Tusawn with his “rap in a poem form” and Antonio’s unclichéSpanglish piece.
Though few were memorable, all but two poets advanced from this lucky 7th prelim to the finals—hackneyed prose and all. (The majority of the other prelims followed the same pattern of advancing amateur poets). With an overflowing pool of poets advancing to the semifinals, the Theater of the Point in the Bronx fumed with Bic ink and nervous souls: many of the poseurs were about to be cut. This was a night of creatively composed violence that followed with lyrical tales of the hood, rape, ex-girlfriends, no-good boyfriends, curses, quicksand, blood, crack pipes, and HIV. One poet spit, “Baptized with blood, I was, ‘cause I’m a child of disease, now a symbol of a teenage love gone wrong.” Another shouted, “Poetry is my bitch.”
Another semifinal night at the Nuyorican Poet’s Café showcased the same tension of the Bronx: one poet illustrated intently a young guy who catches his girlfriend cheating, shoots the other man, beats his girlfriend senseless until her jaw breaks off just before the dying girlfriend picks up his pistol and sends five straight to his chest, then falls dead with the complications of her trauma, all wrapped up in a nice even rhyme emitted from the lips of a stuttering young boy no taller than five feet.
It was another night of creative violence or disturbing truth.