This article was originally published in The Hamilton Spectator, and written by Jeff Mahoney. Photo credits go to Gary Yokoyama. Click here for the published article.
By: Jeff Mahoney
At Hamilton Youth Poets, the loaf of the spoken word gets broken open. Or maybe the life of the broken world gets spoken open. Same thing.
HYP was founded four years ago by Nea Reid, and with the help of the Hamilton Community Foundation it’s been going into all the Hamilton high schools. And wherever HYP goes, the kids follow; the kids cleave to the communion of self-made poetry delivered aloud and shared around.
“We go in, and the next thing, they’re forming their own teams,” says Nea of the school visits.
“It saved me,” says Victoria Daniels, of HYP and spoken word poet. She’s 19 now, high school graduate and “bronze medal” poetry slammer.
“We put on the festival and went from 400 at the first to 1,800 last year.”
Founder, Hamilton Youth Poets
She’ll be all over Louder Than A Bomb Hamilton, a week-long slam poetry festival starting Friday and organized by HYP. She’ll be one of probably almost 2,000.
A couple of years ago she was well on her way to not finishing high school, coiled up in a constricting anaconda of substance abuse and family conflict. Then she experienced HYP. She wrote a poem, about not going to the prom. “I will be my own power couple, spilling my survival on a stage” is a line from it, the stage referring to poetry slamming. She graduated. This spring, she’s going to the prom.
Louder Than a Bomb Hamilton features various poetry slams (competitions), including LTAB Canada Team finals, workshops and related events. Victoria took part last year, got into HYP’s mentoring program and qualified for the team that Hamilton sent to the nationals in Saskatchewan in October. Hamilton came third among competitors from across the nation.
That’s the kind of thing that can get started at Louder Than A Bomb.
“When we started, it was just an idea,” says Nea of HYP. “Then the local slams started growing. We put on the festival and went from 400 at the first to 1,800 last year.” It’s been such a success, the Hamilton Community Foundation, through Matt Goodman, decided to fund its school visits. Nea would love to see spoken word as curriculum.
I should say up front, if you don’t know spoken word, this isn’t Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” or Kilmer’s “I think that I shall never see/A poem as lovely as a tree.” Well, it can be, if you read them aloud. But it’s more. It’s all of life and pain and joy, especially as experienced in the confusion of youth, pouring out of unchained throats in tempos of storm and hush.
You have to experience it. I watched Victoria recite/perform “Prom” at a meeting at Lynwood Charlton, a mental health facility (the kind of thing HYP does). Nea introduced her. Astounding. The words came blindingly at times, like lights in traffic at night; just words, but there was such voice and feeling behind them, they landed forcefully as meteors, falling from inner space.
The group snapped fingers; they murmured mmmmmmm — applause at poetry slams. “If you really feel it in your backyard, go mmmm and snap at the same time,” Nea explained.
From Lynwood Charlton, Nea took us to Waterdown Secondary. We met teacher Pam North and the poetry slam team, with their HYP mentor, the inimitable Eddie Lartey.
“I saw a presentation, it was fantastic, so I joined,” said Dylan Immonen, Grade 10. Ethan Eliuk performed a poem, on labelling. Heather Berry, Grade 9, said doing it “makes me shake like a leaf but you just tell yourself, ‘I have to do it.'” Then it just happens.
Others there were Amber Cartledge (“it’s an amazing feeling to share things so personal”), Sierra Spoar, Sara Elmallah, Rodrigo Somocurico, and Mackenzie Mallais.
Nea says her dream is for us to reach a “hyper-literacy where poetry is as cool as being the quarterback on the football team.”
Snap, mmmmm, to that.
For info on times, days and locations (such as Art Gallery of Hamilton) of events (such as Queeriosity; Junior Poetics: What’s so Rap About Poetry?; Women in Hip-Hop; MC Olympics) at Louder Than a Bomb festival (to May 13), visit hamiltonyouthpoets.org.