Teens get poetic during Brave New Voices Poetry Slam

Teen spoken word artists will compete in Philadelphia for this year's Brave New Voices International Poetry Slam. (Photo by Daniel S. Schaefer courtesy of Youth Speaks)

The nonprofit group Youth Speaks has been spreading the word concerning the youth spoken word movement since 1998 with the annual Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam. Held in different cities around the United States each year, this summer’s four day festival, starting Wednesday, July 16 brings 500 poets and spoken word teen artists to Philadelphia. All events are free and workshops are open to the youth of Philadelphia. Now, that’s something worth writing about!

The festival opens up at the Annenberg Center’s Zellerbach Theatre in University City with performances from local youth artists and a tribute to Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka and Yuri Kochiyama from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, July 16.

Young poets can hone their skills and master the craft (and possibly take next year’s title!) during Thursday, July 17’s series of workshops. Held at the Temple University Student Center and the school’s Ritter Hall from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m., 11 writing and performance workshops lead by professional spoken word artists and teachers will give participants additional skills. Participants can attend two sessions whose themes focus on topics like stage presence and body language to writing and editing. 

Later in the day on Thursday, July 17, quirks and curiosity are further explored during an open mic at the University of Pennsylvania’s Zellerbach Theatre. Performers are encouraged to take the mic and speak their minds about identity and safeness from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.  

The bulk of the competition takes place on Friday, July 18 at various locations around the city. 55 teams from around the country and the world (South Africa, Canada, Bermuda—represent!) will face off in three quarter final shows per venue starting at 9:30 a.m. Catch the two-hour poetry slam rounds at Fringe Arts, Painted Bride, Arden Theatre, Asian Arts Initiative and Underground Arts until 5 p.m.

Winners from that round advance to the semi-finals, taking place at the National Constitution Center on Independence Mall from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. also on Friday, July 18.

Before the festival’s big final showdown, an urban gardening workshop takes place in Fairhill on Saturday, July 19. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Philadelphia Urban Creators, Brave New Voices participants can tend the grounds, tell stories and score some free grub.

Finally, the top four youth poetry teams will slam off for the chance of being the International Youth Poetry Slam champions at the Zellerbach Theatre on Saturday, July 19. Hosted by poet Danez Smith and emceed by International Slam Champion Kai Davis the competition starts at 7 p.m. and will be simulcast in the Harold Prince Theatre also in the Annenberg Center on-campus at the University of Pennsylvania.