youth slam competition generates poetry and community

by Jacquelyn Malone

Sponsors of the largest slam poetry championship for young people in Massachusetts has this as its motto: “The points are not the point, the point is poetry” (points being the scores earned in the championship contest). The Louder than a Bomb (LTAB) contest is sponsored by MassLEAP, a Boston-based collective of poets and educators dedicated to providing a platform for positive youth development through performance poetry. Over 40 teams from around the state competed in a friendly contest this last month, and four have emerged to compete in the state championship from 6 to 9 pm on Friday, May 6th at the historic Strand Theatre in Boston. The public is invited to attend with general admission tickets for $10 and youth groups free.

The program originated in Chicago in 2001 and has since spread across the country. Teams perform original works of poetry, and judges score each piece on a scale of one to ten. The winning teams advance through several rounds in a bid for the finals.

Throughout last month’s events and the coming championship event the organizers emphasize camaraderie over competition. Marty Willis, a for LTAB participant and the current director of the slam festival, gives an example: “Today after someone did a poem about domestic abuse and standing up for yourself, youth from multiple teams came and supported her and hugged her.” It’s that kind of support that goes a long way toward making young people secure enough to participate in the slam events and to grow in the confidence to allow their voices to be heard. It gives them the confidence to LEAP forward in their lives. Sarah Masse, an LTAB youth participant says of the warmth of the slam community, “There’s nothing more beautiful that when teams come together.”

It’s not just the participants who learn through the month-long community workshops, teen lit parties, and poetry slams. Observers also learn. Amanda Torres, MassLEAP’s co-founder and artistic director, says of the May 6th event, “Where else do we have a chance to hear the pulse of what is important to our young people? LTAB provides an opportunity for their voices to be heard and, perhaps more importantly, for us to listen.”

The month-long events have taken place in a number of cultural centers: the Institute of Contemporary Art, UMass Boston, Mass Art Tower auditorium, and the Harriet Tubman House Atrium with the final event at the historic Strand Theatre.

The MassLEAP programs are the place for youth to experience the transformative power of their own voices in community with one another. For more on MassLEAP and their programs, see their lively web site.