2017 City-Wide Poetry Slam Finals
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Fourteen teen poets huddled together under the yellow lights and dormant disco ball hanging above the stage in Ann Arbor’s Neutral Zone on March 30. The poets—winners of preliminary rounds at high schools across the city—were competing for six spots on the Neutral Zone’s Ann Arbor Youth Slam Poetry Team to compete with them at the Brave New Voices competition in San Francisco this July.
The event began with an explanation of the competition by Jeff Kass, Pioneer High School teacher and founder of the team: there would be five judges, each holding up their scores from one to 10 after each poem was read. Then, Daniel Bigham, MC, took over, encouraging the audience to vocalize their disapproval of the judges’ edicts. “You hateful, hateful people,” he often told the judges if their scores were low.
Before the contestants began, the audience was warmed up by listening to a poem by Elizabeth Shaieb, an eighth grader at Ann Arbor Open, and another by a student from Pioneer High School.
Then, round one began. The poets captured the audience with humor, vulnerability and strength. From Community High School, Isabel Ratner, Hannah Rubenstein, Kyndall Flowers, Thea Rowe and Will Carroll performed poems of many different themes from family to religion to mental illness to race and more. After the first round, the judges made the difficult decision of who was to move on to Round Two.
Eight poets moved on, each reading a second poem. Dylan Gilbert read her second poem telling the story of her first hook-up with a white boy; “Touching my first white boy was tiresome, but caring for my father and brother already scares me too much,” she read.
Kyndall’s second poem, titled “Shea Butter” warranted high scores from the judges, with beautiful lines such as “Who taught my mommy’s
great-great-great-grandma how to dig her hands in the water pail, wrap her fingers round the neck and suck her soul back in and kill the baby—go back to work the same morning.”
While originally the competition was only supposed to proceed to two rounds, there was an unexpected tie between Dea Chappell and Thea Rowe, so a third and final poem was read by both. Finally, the 2017 Ann Arbor Slam Poetry Team was announced: Dea Chappell, Hannah Rubenstein, Dylan Gilbert, Sam Kass, Kyndall Flowers, and Zaphra Stupple. In July, the poets will compete in San Francisco for the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival.