The scene at The Vic Theater on an alarmingly warm Saturday night in March was anything but typical. The northside venue felt overrun by black, latino and asian teenagers, all hopped up on adrenaline, jostling for entry, laughing too loud, and spitting...poetry?
This was the Louder Than a Bomb Team Finals competition, the culminating event of the annual Poetry Festival presented by Young Chicago Authors, Columbia College and WBEZ/Vocalo that champions the performance poetry of Chicago area high school students (think of a very hip, slightly angry, lyrical chess club or lacrosse team and you understand the model at play). On this particular evening, poets from the top four high schools (each winning props in the semi-final rounds at Victory Gardens Theater earlier in the week) took the stage in front of a celebrity judging panel, a capacity crowd and Mayor Rahm Emanuel (who brought his family and some security along).
What I expected:
* a sold-out house of fans.
* the "OMG!" exclamations of every other poet as they entered the huge theater.
* poetry about being young, ethnic, misunderstood, and marginalized.
What I did NOT expect:
* the craft and worldliness and wisdom of some of the best, most revealing, soul-filled performance poetry about the body politic and the body personal I could have imagined.
These "students" revealed themselves as artists and humans of the highest regard, relating incredibly penned mantras to the power of cultural diversity, sexual misunderstanding, urban experiences and a worldview far beyond that of Facebook and reality TV. These kids have GAME.
On top of that, check out these remarkable videos, produced by CPS/CTE Broadcast-Digital Media students in support of their classmates, giving you an insider view of two participating teams: "Mic Terrorists" from Julian High School (competing in the Festival for the first time, who successfully made it to the Finals), and "Lyrical Revolution" from Curie Metro High School.
Chicago's Louder Than a Bomb is one of those once in a lifetime opportunities for students with something to say, to say it to people that need to hear it. As I stood and listened to these young poets, it was significant to me that among those in the audience was our Mayor: while I received their multiple messages, so did someone in power.
These poets represented the Truth well.