FLINT, MI—“She’s outdoing you; you’re making her the star.”
“You need to enunciate, and you need to stay consistent with your emotion the whole time.”
The teens who won a late April poetry competition at Buckham Gallery leave on July 17 for the national Brave New Voices Poetry Slam in San Francisco, Calif., and they have a lot of training to do.
So when they’re practicing at the Raise It Up Youth Arts & Awareness office in downtown Flint, they’re performing at game speed—with comments like the ones above providing guidance.
Wednesday morning, Danielle “Nell the Poet” Horton and Shaunice “LaMora” Brown were rehearsing a back-and-forth piece that emulated an abused daughter pleading to her younger sister for help. The other poets—Anyrah “Sayeso” Moffett, and Daqualah “Conscious” Simpkins” and returning poet Yazmen “Yazzi B” Brown—and former contestant-turned-coach Crystal Turner stopped them every few minutes to critique different angles of the performance. Voice inflections, the directions of shoulder pointing, and methods to tap into emotions were all mentioned.
But even with their critiques, they had both come a long way from standstill, relatively deadpan performances in April.
“I had to slow down, [because] I speak fast. I had to get emotional, because I’m not very emotional. I had to get confident,” Brown said. “There’s a lot on my list [of changes to make]!”
Natasha “Theory” Thomas-Jackson, a poet who founded Raise It Up, agreed with the improvements.
“Once the team is selected, we set the bar pretty high. … They understand they’re stepping into an arena where the best youth poets from around the world are all coming to do the same thing: win,” she said. The group practices twice a week for seven hours per day, and connects outside of official practices to memorize or collaborate on their pieces. “We try to stretch them in their writing and performance. We review each one of their poems and ask them to try to re-imagine it.”
Thomas-Jackson said that a month and a half after the April competition, the group raised the necessary $10,000 to cover travel, lodging, and food for the teens’ trip. She cites Ruth Mott Foundation, Community Mental Health, Rotary Club of Greater Sunrise, and several other groups, personal donors and community members, as key supporters.
“Sometimes, actually seeing the youth perform was all it took for people to want to support,” she said. “They’ve been out here showing the community that they’re worth the investment, and that they plan to go and represent Flint positively.”