Speaking Up is Slammin’
Slamming, Speaking Up = A New You!
Girls all over the world are getting involved in spoken word poetry and finding their true selves.
Tekeisha Meade, 16
Mirna Ortiz, 16
Many teens write poetry but don't share it with the world -- but that's not the case with spoken word and slam poets! Spoken word poetry and poetry slam competitions enable you to share your work, to develop a voice, and be heard by many people. Knowing that spoken word has such a huge impact on teens, we interviewed two girls from Boston Youth Poetry Slam Team, to find out how they feel about the poetry they write and perform.
Teen Voices sat down with Sara "Kass" Levy and Kait Rokowski, both 19, from the Boston Youth Slam Poetry Team. The women from the slam poetry team love expressing themselves by writing and performing poetry. We were really excited to interview them and find out how being on a competitive slam poetry team is like and why poetry is so important to them.
Teen Voices (TV): What is it like being on the team?
Kass Levy: It's very intense. There are a lot of different people with a lot of different styles, coming from very different worlds. There is so much at once, and emotions run high. It really brings you closer together, though. I've made some really good friends on this team.
How did you get into poetry? What made you get into poetry?
Levy: I have been writing forever, but I wrote a haiku at camp when I was 9 years old and since then I haven't stopped.
Kait Rokowski: I've been writing poetry in my notebook for as long as I can remember. My 11th grade English teacher introduced me to spoken word poetry.
Do you use your real name or a pen name when you write/ perform?
Levy: Sort of—I go by my middle name, Kass, because there are too many Saras at my school and it gets confusing. When I publish I use my full name.
Rokowski: I do [go by my own name], yes. However, my last name is Rokowski [which is hard to pronounce so my teammates call me] "Rockoutski."
What inspired you to get into slam poetry?
Levy: My friend started an open mic at school; I read every week and eventually gave slam poetry a try. Actually, my friend basically dragged me onto the stage and made me read!
How did you get involved with the Boston Youth Slam Poetry Team? How did they choose you? Did you have to audition?
Levy: The tryout was by process of elimination — we did slams to get onto the team. I heard about it through the same friend who started the open mic, who then became a coach for the team.
Rokowski: I'm from Maine, and we don't have a youth slam team. We do have an adult team but not a youth team. I found out about it by Googling, but I couldn't get in touch with [anyone]. I kind of dropped it for a while and until about a year ago, I didn't really think about it again. Then out of the blue I found out about this poet George Watsky who lives in Boston, and became friends with him on Facebook and found out that he was the coach of the Boston Youth Slam Team. He posted a flyer for the team tryouts on his Facebook wall, and I ended up trying out.
How did you know poetry was for you?
Levy: I'd been writing all my life, so it was never a question of whether I would write poetry, just if I would get anywhere with it. I got a lot of encouragement from my family and friends, as well as my teachers, and then in 2007 I won a creative writing scholarship to Interlochen Arts Academy, which allowed me to study there for my senior year of high school. I also won a local high school poetry competition in 2006. That really helped me to believe that people wanted to see my work.
Rokowski: It's something I love. I mean, poetry can be for anyone as long as it makes you happy.
Why do you like performing poetry and competing in poetry slams?
Levy: Slam is very passionate. I am a shy person and I have stage fright, but sharing things I've been through is important. It's my outlet in a lot of ways. And it helps me connect with people, both the audience and the other poets.
Rokowski: I feel that it really gets your voice heard. It's not like putting it on a page and walking away—you have an instant reaction. And it's very exciting as well.
Does it take a lot of confidence to perform?
Levy: I'm rather shy, and confidence is something I tend to lack. It took me a long time to get into slam, because I never really felt like I could do it. So yes, it takes confidence, and it also takes a lot of courage and patience to find that confidence. It's definitely worth it though.
Rokowski: I don't know—some poets have self-confidence issues, but it seems to all wash away when she's onstage. I don't really have confidence issues— I really enjoy performing, and it's not really a problem for me. I don't think it's a problem when it comes to your poetry because it's a specific brand of poetry and people really want to be heard. Maybe they're self-conscious about their performance factor, but most people aren't self-conscious about their poetry, which is really great and that's how everyone should look at [poetry] because it's really about the words.
How do you prepare for a performance?
Levy: As a team we go through a series of exercises to get into the mindset. Mainly the sort of things people do in theater: voice exercises, enunciation, that sort of thing. I have a hard time participating since I'm rather self-conscious, but for me I just practice the poem as much as I can and take a deep breath when it's time to get on stage.
Rokowski: We practice as a team. There are five people on our team and four coaches. We go through our likes and dislikes about the poem. Basically everyone talks about it and if you really like it the way you performed it, then we leave it that way.
What do you write about? What are your favorite topics and why?
Levy: I have a series about fairytales and mythology, where I'm writing in the voice of women in those stories. I have a lot of poems about women's rights. I also have some poems about veganism and environmentalism. The things I perform about are mostly women's rights—people tend to think that women are liberated and everything is fine, but everywhere I go there are so many awful things happening to women. We have a lot more to fight.
Rokowski: I write about everything from religion, to alcoholism, to Emily Dickinson. I write about stuff to inspire other people. It's pretty much what I'm feeling at the time. I don't particularly have a favorite topic. The topics I have multiple poems about are ongoing issues: issues with my boyfriend and with living in a very small town.
What's the difference between writing poetry and being on a slam poetry team?
Levy: When you're writing in the moment, it's private, but on the team there are a lot of suggestions and criticism. You have to learn to take suggestions but also to stick up for something you really like.
Rokowski: It's not a huge difference—you still write the poem. We don't do that as a team, but being on a team is very unique because they pretty much tell you what they think of your poetry and then you perform it in front of people. It's really important to have a team to ask questions and to fall back on.
Does poetry make you happy?
Rokowski: Yes, it's the best form of release. Not every teenager needs to be on a spoken word performance level but I think that it's really important for every teenager to have a form of release. And it so happens I was sort of pretending to be this perfect teenager where on the inside I had all this cramped-up frustration that I didn't talk about, because I didn't want people to think I was weak. I wrote about it and it ended up making me the happiest I've ever been in my life.
Who are your favorite poets?
Levy: Pablo Neruda, Sylvia Plath, Walt Whitman, Mary Oliver, Marty McConnell, Andrea Gibson, Anis MojganiI could go on forever.
Rokowski: Sylvia Plath, Anis Mojgani
Do you study creative writing at college?
Levy: Yes, with a possible double major in gender studies.
Rokowski: Yes, I will be going to the New School in New York in the fall.
How does poetry empower you?
Levy: Poetry is about finding your voice, which is the main thing that women struggle with, I think. My poems tend to address silence. Through poetry I can let out what I couldn't say at the time. It lets me say what I need to say.
Rokowski: It really gives you a voice— you have three and a half minutes to say whatever you feel to anyone you want to say it to. You can say anything on that platform, and it's amazing for a teen to say what they have to say. It's incredible to hear the stories and on top of saying what you want to say you have the ability to listen to what other people have to say—and that's just as important. It kind of gives you that "other" feeling that you're not alone and other people feel it and it's just an incredible circle of empowerment and energy and positivity.
Do you feel if teens wrote poetry that they would be different?
Levy: A lot of teen girls do write poetry, but many don't share it. When they do share it they receive criticism, and that's not what poetry is about. I don't mean constructive criticism, which can be helpful if you're at the right stage for it, but criticism about writing at all. Keep going anyway and be true to yourself, even when people are being jerks. Poetry is about voice; don't let anyone silence you.
Rokowski: I think a lot of teens write poetry, but I don't think a lot of them share it. I definitely support girls writing poetry. It's a great way to express yourself and release what you're feeling. I don't think anything would be different if all girls did, I just think girls would be happier.
What advice would you give to a teen girl who wants to get involved in slam poetry in her community?
Levy: Definitely write. Try to get involved in your community, if there's a slam community around. It's easier in college but if you're in high school, maybe start a poetry club. Or even look up poets that live nearby to your hometown. But the main thing is to continue writing.
Rokowski: Keep writing for now. If anyone is interested in the Boston Youth Slam Team specifically, they can become friends with me on Facebook and Myspace and I'll put up the Boston Youth flier so they can get involved.
Want to start your own slam team?
Advice from Boston youth poetry slam team member Kass Levy:
"Definitely write, and get involved in your community. If you're in high school, start a poetry club."
- Start a poetry club in school or through a youth group in the community.
- Put fliers around your school, neighborhood.
- Talk to your friends and get the word out.
- Organize competitions with other schools (talk to your head coordinator of your school)
- If you are comfortable, write your work on your Facebook/Myspace or even a blog.
Leave a Response