Bookmarks: Jan. 30 2014

Above: poem by Clementine Von Radics, a Seattle-based slam poet expected to visit The 570 in March.

Book columnist Andrea McGuigan talks with Katie Wisnosky in advance of the Breaking Ground Poets poetry slam on Saturday, Feb. 1 from 2 to 5 p.m. at TwentyFiveEight Studios off North Washington Avenue in Scranton.

Please tell us all about the group you coach, the Breaking Ground Poets.
The Breaking Ground Poets is a volunteer run community organization that provides safe spaces for teenagers (ages 14-19) to express themselves through writing and develop their voices as artists. Our mentors have backgrounds in education and the arts. Overall, we aim to promote creative writing, public speaking, emotional literacy and civic engagement within the youth writing communities of NEPA. The Breaking Ground Poets believe through storytelling and positive reinforcement we can build a stronger generation of readers, writers and thinkers. Most importantly, the teens are like family to me.
You host monthly open mic nights at the Tioga Bistro in Tunkhannock, but you also hold slam poetry competitions. What can you tell us about the slam that’s taking place on Saturday, Feb. 1? What can people expect to see and hear?
Slam was invented in Chicago, in the ‘80s, by a construction worker named Marc Smith who was tired of going to boring poetry readings where the audience wasn’t engaged in the performance. Slam was a way of giving poetry back to the people and creating a conversation between poet & listener. A slam is a competitive poetry competition where a panel of five judges score teens’ original poems on a scale of 1-10 (with decimals). There are three rounds and eliminations after each round. To encourage crowd participation, the judges hold up their scores immediately after the performance so the crowd can boo or cheer the score. Even though a winner is declared at the end, the opportunity for teenagers to express themselves is always greater than the feat of winning or the feeling of victory. This month Conor O’Brien will be our featured emcee, and we have poets from five schools across NEPA competing. Poems are often deeply personal, raw, dynamic, beautiful and honest!

Some of these events are fundraisers for the BGP. I understand the group is saving up to attend the Brave New Voices competition. What happens at BNV and when and where is it happening this year?
Brave New Voices is the largest youth slam festival in the world. It is a four day festival about learning from each other about how to create mutual respect across cultures. 50 teams of youth poets come from all across the United States. BNV also features International teams from Canada, Africa, Guam, and Leeds. At the festival teens participate in forums, workshops, and slams. Last year we traveled to Chicago for the festival, but this year it is in Philly!

Breaking Ground Poets will welcome Jeanann Verlee to The 570 in May.

Breaking Ground Poets will welcome Jeanann Verlee to The 570 in May.

What other sort of activities does BGP participate in?
Our organization hosts free monthly writing workshops for local youth, open mics, pre-teen workshops facilitated by members of the BGP, next month we are the featured performers for the open mic in Wilkes-Barre, and occasionally we bring some super-fly poets to the area. Clementine Von Radics will be here in March and Jeanann Verlee will be performing in May.
How do you think poetry and spoken word performance helps the students you work with?
I have always believed that genuine investment in a student’s future begins the moment an individual is convinced she possesses a sense of empowerment. When you enter into honest conversations with students that promote student-centered thought, it breaks down barriers in the classroom and in their personal lives. Writing provides teenagers with a coping mechanism and makes them feel comfortable exercising their right to be heard in a mature way. Many times we talk at teenagers instead of with them. This creates passive learning. Overall, poetry has taught my students tolerance of one another and how to navigate through their identities in a positive way.

Bookmarks appears bi-monthly in ec and dc.
Send your literary news to: