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Brave (yet slightly angsty and overly emotional) voices

By Harriet Staff

There’s no other literary event that combines showbiz glitz, adolescent angst, celebrity co-hosts and slam poetry quite like this. The Russell Simmons-produced documentary chronicling “Brave New Voices,” the National Youth Poetry Slam competition, aired on HBO last weekend. Troy Jollimore of the Washington Post provides a play-by-play of the televised special, critiquing both the heartfelt and the cringe-worthy moments:

For the most part, it’s loud, fast and emotionally simple. It emphasizes the performance over the text, and seeks the strongest possible audience reaction, often at the expense of subtlety and complexity. It’s sometimes delivered so quickly that you can’t even make out the actual words, which doesn’t really matter because it isn’t the words so much as the feeling conveyed that signals the poem’s success.

Amid the screams and histrionics, some poets focused more on the integrity of the poem than the sound of their own voices:

But viewers who persevere will see something rather wonderful. The Denver team, in the evening’s final performance, changes the emotional tone of the evening radically by delivering a poem called “Score,” which directly confronts the problem of insisting that every poem be recognized as a masterpiece. “I dare you to give this poem a 7,” they shout at the judges. “I would rather have your respect than your applause.” And to the audience: “If you weren’t cheering so loud then you would hear the point behind the poetry.”

Posted in Poetry News on Monday, October 25th, 2010 by Harriet Staff.