So, I went to this poetry slam at Vault 1031 the other night, and I got to watch these really crazy gifted kids read their poetry; and I came out with their words in my head and just feeling really wonderful and different and moved.
The poets come from a group called Generation iSpeak, founded by Julie Crittendon and her son Alex aka Alexander the Great. The aim of the organization is to gather Louisville kids from emotionally difficult circumstances and teach them how to express themselves through spoken word poetry. The results are overwhelmingly positive. There is a palpable sense of camaraderie in the room in an evening of genuinely compelling work.
Alex (ATG) is the MC for the show, and he is made for it, cutting in and easing some of the tensions with easygoing humor and enthusiasm. The team is composed of seven poets: Gabe, Lance, Sparrow, Josh, Tessa, Mama Candace, and Dream. There are judges, but as ATG reminds us, “It’s about the poetry,” and it truly is.
“Every time you get high, you paint vacancy signs on your eyes,” reads Tessa. “Us black kids want to get an education just like their children do,” reads Josh. Another poet refers to her “handmade heart.”
Emotionally honest writing like this can cross social and cultural barriers because it is universal yet specific. You feel it, even though you might not have lived it. The kids have a maturity and a confidence on stage that belies their age.
The work isn’t always easy to hear. The issues they take on are the big ones: the Trayvon Martin case, racism, inner city crime, guns, poverty, drug abuse, grief, and loss. The poets might not have the polish of more seasoned writers, but the raw talent in the room is obvious and these writers have all of the grit and confidence of youth.
Generation iSpeak is attending Brave New Voices Youth Poetry Slam in Chicago in the coming weeks. I wish them well. I am amazed by Alex and his mother’s vision; it seems that they have found a unique way to help kids out, giving them a voice in writing and showing them how to use it, creating an environment that is demanding yet supportive. A community of likeminded writers is a powerful thing. Louisville should listen.
Tim & Dair Mathistad
Katie & Chris Haulter
Kathy Todd Chaney
Angie Reed Garner