This story was written by Henry Luke, Arts Corps alumni and Youth Speaks Seattle coordinator. Youth Speaks Seattle became a program of Arts Corps in 2011. This article was originally published in Arts Corps’ latest magazine and annual report which can be found here.
In 2008, I walked into my first poetry slam. I had never been to any event featuring spoken word. When I heard the word poetry, I thought of dead white men like Shakespeare and Robert Frost. I never expected to enjoy poetry, let alone perform it.
When I arrived, people were laughing, dancing, and freestyling. I wanted to know them! Itwas an atmosphere of spontaneous energy and emotion that I had never experienced before. At the time, very little felt sacred in my life, but when the poets began performing I felt a kind of reverence for the power of their words. The audience clapped and snapped their fingers, gasped and shouted, even cried. I was moved by the power of a poem to pull me into a story, make me feel so many emotions in a few minutes. I had never seen anyone declare themselves like that, to get onstage with nothing but their story and say “This is who I am! This is what I believe in!” I saw nothing ironic or self-conscious in their celebration of life and love. Each word was a piece of their truth.
My introduction to Youth Speaks Seattle coincided with a massive change in my worldview: I realized I was a part of many massive and unjust systems that disconnect and silence people I know and love. At the same time, I came to see myself as a fragment of something even larger, an interconnected universe filled with meaning and mystery. Poetry became the piece that tied everything together: when writing, I never had to compartmentalize the personal and the political. Performance gave a sensation of release, speaking my stories into existence made them that much more real.
At Brave New Voices International Poetry Slam (the national Youth Speaks gathering), I met poets from Philadelphia, Honolulu, San Francisco, New York, and Guam. I sat twenty feet from Bobby Seale as he spoke about the founding of the Black Panthers and compared it to the work Youth Speaks does today. I have realized spoken word is not just an art form. It is a movement. There are young people across the world speaking their truth and creating spaces where that is safe to do. We are storytellers of our generation.
Today when I hear the word poetry, I think of my friends, I think of myself. And my journey continues in my new position at Arts Corps as the Youth Speaks Seattle Coordinator.
I am honored to hold space for other young people across Seattle to express themselves and step into their power, whatever form that takes.
Youth Speaks Seattle’s 2012 Slam Series Info:
Feb 10, 7pm @ Harambee: 316 South 3rd St, Renton
Mar 2, 7pm @ Theater Off Jackson: 409 7th Ave South, Seattle
Stay Tuned for Details on the Wild Card Slam and Grand Slam Finals here!