Area Teens Build Confidence, Friendship in WordPlay's Youth Poetry Program

"Writing a poem doesn't change the world. Learning about new people and understanding new people and really feeling inspired by new people who are very different than you - I'd like to say that's what's changing the world." Adam Gottlieb, former winner, Louder Than a Bomb youth poetry slam.

When asked what drew her to Louder Than a Bomb, WordPlay Executive Director Libby Hunter is quick to reply: "Beyond literacy, beyond creative writing, WordPlay is about building community; bridging the divide between circumstance and opportunity for children in need. LTAB is, above all else, an opportunity for teenagers from very diverse backgrounds to come together, learn about and from each other, and form relationships that would otherwise never had an opportunity to flourish."

We have exciting updates since we first reported on LTAB in the Northsider earlier this summer. At that time, WordPlay had recently been invited by the Taft Research Center at the University of Cincinnati to partner with them and the youth arts organization Elementz to bring one of the most successful community-building events for youth to Cincinnati: Louder Than a Bomb. LTAB is a youth poetry festival that was originated by the Young Chicago Authors in 2001 to be a platform geared not only toward giving disenfranchised youth a voice, but also to giving them a chance to come together around their stories and learn from one another. Since its conception, it has become the largest youth poetry festival in the world.

The 5 WordPlay LTAB teams continue to draw students from high schools across the city, including Aiken, dePaul Christo Rey, LaSalle, Seven Hills, Seton, Oak Hills, and Walnut Hills, among many others. We are very proud to have teenagers from Job Corps and Children's Hospital participating as well. Teams have been meeting weekly this fall, working tirelessly with their teachers and performance coaches to craft individual and team performance poetry pieces.

Approximately 400 students are expected to participate in this year's competition. WordPlay and Elementz serve as Co-Coordinators, each managing its own roster of teams. Weekly LTAB sessions include intensive exercises to uncover themes for the students' poems, sharpen their writing skills, and individual performance coaching. Along with its partner LTAB schools, WordPlay hosts monthly open mic nights to help the students build their stage presence and comfort with large audiences. These lively events are also an excellent way for students to size up the competition in a friendly atmosphere and, most importantly, come together to begin to know one another.

"This is the first of its kind for Cincinnati and it is so valuable for high school students," WordPlay LTAB coach Elese Daniel said. "This is an outlet for them to express their true feelings about what's happening with themselves and their surroundings. They get to discuss how they actually perceive these different things. It's a very cathartic experience."

WordPlay's first open mic night in October was a huge success, with opening peroforances b accomplished local poets, and culminating in a standing ovation for the student poets. In November, WordPlay hosted an open mic poetry reading at Chase Public with a special appearance from spoken-word artist, Tony Styxx. Styxx motivated the students by performing a few of his pieces and giving them advice on how to capture the attention of the audience.

"Tony just came into the room with such force," said Daniel, who is a recent UC graduate and herself a performance poet and writer. "I don't think my students have ever head a speaker or a coach talk to them with such confidence, so I'm interested to see how that has affected them."

This month's open mic night is scheduled for Thursday, December 4th, hosted by WordPlay's LTAB team at Seven Hills High School in their Black Box Theater, 6-8 pm and emceed by local poet Kim "DuWap" Bolden.

Along with Daniel, the teams are also receiving tutelage from poetry veteran and WordPlay LTAB Coordinator, Desirae Hosley. Hosley, who has been a spoken word artist for over 10 years. Hosley been involved with numerous slam poetry societies, including her own poetry team for the UC SlamCats in 2008.

"The benefit for me is being able to see these kids gain confidence," Hosley said. "I want them to find their voice and not be afraid to use it. I feel like all children have voices that need to be heard and it usually comes out great through poetry."

And there is still time for new students to join! If you know of an area teen who might be interested, call WordPlay at 513-541-0930, or email for more information. Teens can participate on an LTAB team for the writing experience, and do not need to be a part of the stage competition. Keep an eye on WordPlay's facebook page and website for future open mic dates.

By Bryan Shupe, WordPlay Journalism Intern

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