Poets take to the stage, share stories of the streets at slam
As the first poet took the stage Monday night at the Quest 4 the Voice poetry slam at the Washington Center in Duluth, someone from the audience shouted, "You better bring it, shorty!"...
As the first poet took the stage Monday night at the Quest 4 the Voice poetry slam at the Washington Center in Duluth, someone from the audience shouted, "You better bring it, shorty!"
Shorty brought it, all right. All the shorties did. To celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 11 young poets, with names like Magic, Diggy, Ra-Ra and Lyricist, delivered stories from the streets, stories of abusive or absent fathers, of rape and prostitution, of violence and hopelessness, and a couple stories of hope.
One read like a valentine to a single mother. Several poems detailed sexual assaults.
Another apologized for the racism of his white ancestors while acknowledging that racism still is a problem:
"You say you're mad at me 'cause my ancestors had your family hanging from nooses. Yeah, their actions were oh, so ruthless. That's just the fact that that's what the truth is."
Riding enough momentum to knock an elephant back five feet, the poem, like the snowflake that starts an avalanche, built to a climax that brought the crowd to its feet at the slam, a poetry reading with a competitive element.
The author of that poem, along with four other poets, advanced to the statewide slam in the Twin Cities and a chance to go to the national competition in Washington, D.C. But for most of the poets, the slam wasn't about winning or losing. It was about speaking their mind.
"This ain't a competition for me," one poet said, "this is just what I like to do."
Most poets performed using pen names, with no real identification provided.
Some of the performers were on stage for the first time, and asked the audience to "bear with me." Their courage impressed emcee Bill Hawes.
"It takes a lot to get up here and tell your stories, let me tell you," said Hawes, a poet and one of the founding members of Minnesota Mantra, a local spoken-word poetry group that organized the poetry slam. Along with the contestants, the poetry slam included poems from several guests, including local poets Sarah Agaton Hawes, Richard "Bear" Morris, and Sister Naomi Tamar.
At least one audience member said the whole event was sad because the stories ignored more-positive aspects of inner-city life. But the Quest 4 the Voice was about youths expressing themselves.
"This isn't about the five poets that move on or the five poets that don't," Hawes told the audience before the 11th poet signed up. "This is about young people being able to share their voices and their stories here in Duluth."