This past week I have heard more poems and sweated in more shirts than most do in a lifetime. I experienced five full days of love, community, and a lot of sun, while assisting the Meta-Four Houston Poetry Slam Team at Brave New Voices (BNV) 2015 in the hot city of Atlanta, Georgia.
What exactly is the Brave New Voices International Poetry Festival? Well, it is everything the Meta-Four Houston team has been working for the past 3 month. It is the competition of all competitions, the slam of all slams, and most importantly the community of all communities. BNV is a poetry slam competition that stresses the importance of sharing your words and stories on a stage.
The entire week we were surrounded by hundreds of poets from around the world. Teams from California, New York, and even Ireland attended the festivities. according to the Houston team I had the pleasure of working with, it was the experience of a lifetime. There were town hall meetings that discussed social issues, poetry workshops that taught writing and performance skills, a large community service day, and spoken word that could only be described as transformative.
Nevertheless, the life-changing experience that is BNV is not new to me. In 2013, I was a member of the Meta-Four team and experienced firsthand the emotions of performance and how amazing every poet that graced the stage was. Those few days were filled with enough love to last a lifetime. I thought I knew what to expect, how to play the game, but I was completely taken back by how different it felt to coach and not play.
As an intern for Writer in the Schools(WITS), I worked with the Meta-Four team throughout the course of the summer. I did not know what to prepare for or whether I would be deemed a fraud among true poets, but I found that being a part of this group challenged and inspired me to become a better poet, teacher, and person. Alongside the amazing head coaches, Outspoken Bean and Deborah “DEEP” Mouton, I had the opportunity to help five amazing writers tell their stories and grow as poets and performers. After eight weeks of four day practices, their stories soon became our stories, and a team became a family. The Meta-Four members, Carl, Rukmini, Lily, Sarah, and Marcus, worked tirelessly on a performance piece that was in fact a piece of them. I watched as these students connected to their words and each other and could not have been more proud to watch them put it all out there on a stage.
At BNV I watched in awe as each teammate put their heart and soul into their performances. They encouraged not only each other, but every other poet that took the stage. While watching the Meta-Four team perform and compete throughout the summer I thought I missed the world of slam, the competition, the snaps and wails of an audience, but after this trip I knew it was the community that is created through poetry I yearned for and found at BNV.
As one of the hosts of the slam finals at BNV pointed out, “We came in as 60 teams but left as one family.” Every day was jam packed with activities that were not centered on just the competition, and I was blessed with the responsibility as a WITS/Meta-Four intern to capture it all.
The Meta-Four team competed in two preliminary bouts and even though they did not advance, they let out everything on stage. Every performance became less about numbers and scores and more about letting their stories and dreams come alive on a platform. I know every audience member took something from their words, because even after hearing them practice after practice, I was blown away.
As a writer, there are always stories swept under the pages of my notebook that go unfinished or untouched because they aren’t meant for competition. As a slam competitor, it never seemed fair to have a person’s truth judged by scorecards and dry erase boards. But as a coach, I found that spoken word does not always need a ten, because in my opinion it only took five to capture the world.
By Tiffany Ike
Tiffany Ike was a WITS intern in 2015, sponsored by the ExxonMobil Community Summer jobs program. She will be a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this fall.