Sunday, July 19, 2009
Shout out to Harlem.
Sorry for the hiatus, folks. Been coaching at Brave New Voices 2009 for the past week and have had absolutely no internet access. I'm incredibly proud of the 2009 Philly team, they all did their thing and I will be sure to put up some of their footage when I get a hold of it. Each told their individual stories and had a personal breakthrough of some kind; a collective transformation I was overjoyed to behold and honored to play a part in.
Still, juxtaposed against the beauty of this year's BNV was a cloud of rumors, and the appearance of serious misguidance by the powers that be.
For the first time ever at the festival, I felt as if some of the voices that I was hearing were tailored by a mix of YouTube and overly aggressive coaching. Replacing the raw, uninhibited voices I was so used to coming across were poems that at times seemed forced, etched from the stencil of BNV teams past in an effort to attain the highest score possible and eventually win the competition.
Now, don't get me wrong. Only a year ago, I was one of the most competitive cats to ever touch a microphone. A relentless, calculating strategist more times than I care to remember, I have on various occasions forgotten to indulge in the beauty that so often sprouts from poetry slams in favor of concentrating instead on attaining victory. It is that sort of energy that lingered over this last festival; unnecessary choreography,a lack of substance, and a blatant refusal to support other teams. While this week made me unspeakably joyous at moments (practicing with the Philly team,watching Saul Williams perform live twice, seeing old friends and making new ones) there were also instances where I genuinely feared for the future of the art form, where my face buried itself in my hands in a mix of confusion and sadness over what so many young folks have been told that they must sound and perform like in order to be successful.
I earnestly hope that spoken word poetry,(and slam as arguably its primary vehicle), does not devolve; does not become so concerned with the validation of the mainstream that it forgets its roots, does not become a product to be sold to the highest bidding sponsor. I hope that the people who spoke their own truth this weekend continue to do so and refuse to let whatever happened in Chicago bruise or break them.
I hope that there are more folks like Brandon Santiago, who spoke a powerful truth into my heart this afternoon. Like Ittai Wong, who shared an incredibly vulnerable moment with me after his team, Hawaii, took the title for a second year in a row. Like Alysia Harris, whose honesty and willingness to forgive never ceases to astound me. Like Team Philly, Team Denver, Gregory Corbin, Urban Word,all of BNV '07-'08 and the thousands of poets I have seen, heard and grown with since.
Never let someone else define your voice,poets. Take back what is yours and make it whole again. Who you are always has been, and always will be, so much more than enough.
Shout out to Jorge Brito. This piece goes in, it's straight from the heart.