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It’s not about the points, it’s about the poem. That’s the mantra of the DC Youth Poetry Slam Team. But since the five members of the group get to participate every year in the national poetry competition Brave New Voices in San Francisco, they’re pretty good with points, too.
So when 15-year-old Lauryn Nesbitt stumbled during a preliminary bout last Tuesday, it was hard not to worry about the score. Behind her, coach and host Jonathan B. Tucker started slowly snapping, and the crowd joined in. The snap, Tucker explained, “is like Tinkerbell, it’s everyone’s powers combined.”
And it worked—-Lauryn won second place. She’s been slamming for two years, but writing poetry for much longer. The switch was natural. “It was, ‘Do I want to sit in the house and have books and books of poetry,’ or , ‘Do I want people to hear,’ do you know what I mean?” she says. “To sit and read was boring. I wanted to impact so it was another capacity for me to be like, ‘Listen to me.’”
She’ll get her chance to be heard in the local semi-finals on April 3. If she goes through to the finals, the real work begins, starting with rigorous practice. Some of rehearsals last 12 hours.
Most kids aren’t turned off by the commitment, explains Tucker, especially because by that point, they’ve already made the team. Tucker, a first-time volunteer coach, is also veteran of the adult slam circuit and founder of Terpoets, an open mic at the University of Maryland.
As the DC Youth Poetry Slam Team prepares for the Brave New Voices competition in May, it’s possible they have a secret weapon.
“DC has a special flavor, we even have a special accent,” Tucker says.
According to Tucker, that flavor includes everything from local slang to important issues like HIV and AIDS that affect our community. As the team competes regionally they will showcase this spirit, but more importantly, as Tucker points out, they get a chance to see poetry across the United States.
The DC Youth Poetry Slam Team performs tonight at the Terpoets open mic at University of Maryland at 7 p.m.
Photo: Darius Brown