On the evening of April 14, 10 young spoken-word artists gathered at the True Reformer building in Washington, D.C., to compete for a chance to represent D.C. at the Brave New Voices slam poetry competition in San Francisco.
As the auditorium at the True Reformer building on U street filled, a panel of judges was selected from among audience members who had no personal connection to any of the poets. After opening remarks by organizers and a performance by last year’s winner, a young man with the stage name Pages, they got down to business.
First up was a “calibration poet” — a non-competitor. The judges’ ranking of him was thoroughly reviewed by the audience (by way of cheers or jeers) to give the judges a sort of reference point for their evening’s scoring.
Each of the 10 poets then rolled out two performances, ranging from earnest to energetic, percussive to plangent. Some sang their way into their pieces, some read off well-worn notes, or occasionally glanced at the texts saved on their cell phones. Momentary memory lapses were met with encouraging snaps.
“I didn’t expect to get this much love,” said Kosi Dunn, 15, of the surprisingly supportive atmosphere. “I expected . . . real mean competition, but all the people who are competing are my friends now,” Dunn said.
Dunn later made it into the top five, thereby winning a spot on the team that will travel to San Francisco at the end of July.
Sarah Browning, from Split This Rock poetry festival, an organization who sponsors the youth slam team said that the group is currently working to raise at least $7,000 to pay for the trip to the competitioin, but ideally twice that so that their coaches can accompany them.
A fundraising happy hour will be held Thursday, April 21, at the Sign of the Whale (1825 M Street) from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.