June 17, 2008

Slammin' young Native poets

Young American Indians Find Their Voice in PoetryNolan will use that pen and his baritone when he competes this summer in the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival in Washington, D.C. He and a group of fellow students at the Santa Fe Indian School are part of a growing program that has won a slew of local and regional poetry slams and twice earned an invitation to the festival, which pits teams of the country’s top young spoken word poets against one another.

While Nolan and his teammates do not hail from the gritty urban surroundings that are often a breeding ground for slam poetry, where poets are judged on both performance and writing, their team is drawing national attention for its decidedly American Indian take on an art form that has grown increasingly popular with young people over the last decade.
The youngsters are busting stereotypes as well as rhymes:Teachers and administrators at the Indian School say the program counters any perception that Indian students cannot excel in English and writing.

“Tears dance down my cheeks in the rhythm of Santo Domingo’s corn dance/Tattered textbooks and Presbyterian Bibles bark violent incantations and shriek curses of assimilation,” thundered April Chavez, a senior reciting her poem “Indian Education” at a recent rehearsal.
They'll appear in an HBO documentary:The poems impressed James Kass, the founder and executive director of Youth Speaks, which produces the festival. Mr. Kass invited the team to participate in 2007 after hearing about them from Mr. McLaughlin, and he recalled seeing the students mesmerize a packed crowd at a San Francisco slam last year.

After failing to advance past the quarterfinal round last year, the Santa Fe team is poised for a stronger showing next month. They will be the only exclusively American Indian team among the 44 competing. An HBO camera crew has been following the students as they prepare and will be there to record the final competition as part of a documentary.
Three PoemsStudents from the Santa Fe Indian School will be competing in July at the National Youth Poetry Slam Festival in Washington D.C., an event that pits the country's top young spoken word poets against each other.Comment:  You can see pix of the poets and hear them recite their poems via the second link.

The poems are pretty good. They're laced with Indian imagery, which makes them unusual and unpredictable compared to some poems. But because the poets are only in high school, they don't use "sophisticated" references and metaphors that obscure their meaning.

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