Brave New Voices competitors find their own ways to parse the world through poetry 

  • Illustration by Dustin Glatz, with assets from Shutterstock.com
Teenagers are often more savvy than they get credit for. To say nothing of the profound indexing ability of a generation that grew up online, teenagers are constantly observing and evaluating the world around them, and given the right medium and the right audience, they often have something to say.

That’s certainly true for the six young poets who will represent the Springs as this year’s Brave New Voices Youth Team. From Wednesday, July 18, to Saturday, July 21, they’ll be in Houston putting their poetic chops on display, networking with other poets across the country and attending workshops to hone their craft.

To send them off, local poetry group Hear Here will host a special show featuring their works on the night of Sunday, July 15, at The Social. The team will perform the works they’ve spent the last three months refining for Houston.

According to Nico Wilkinson, Hear Here’s community outreach liaison (and occasional Indy freelancer), the atmosphere at Brave New Voices — and in slam poetry in general — has changed over the past few years. Slam’s always encouraged poets to spill their pain onto the page and bring their nightmares to life for the audience and judges’ approval, the more visceral the vulnerability, the better the response. But Wilkinson says there’s been a focus shift. This year’s Brave New Voices focuses less on competition and more on the festival and the community.

That doesn’t mean the poets will be any less pointed in their commentary. Take Naya Concepcion, one of the team members who will traveling Houston. She’s a student at Doherty High School. Her preferred subject is feminism, and she writes to make clear the differences between feminism, misogyny and misandry — that is, behavior that is discriminatory toward men.

“A lot of people have misconceptions about what feminism is, and they confuse it with misandry,” she says. One of the pieces she’s collaborated on examines how gender intersects with race, economic status and other social concerns to determine who in the U.S. and the world has an easier time getting ahead. It’s a complex and nuanced system of advantages and disadvantages, and conveying it clearly is no mean feat. She uses the 1996 video game Mario Kart 64 as an analogy to explain it.

“It’s a game that most if not everyone knows, so I just wanted it to be universal, to an extent,” she says. In the game, players drive go-karts around a racetrack, picking up power-ups to affect their own or others’ go-karts. The farther back a player is, the better power-ups they get — it keeps each race a little closer.

But in Concepcion’s poem, that’s not how it works. The drivers with greater privilege along racial or gender lines get better power-ups, and that gives them a decided advantage. They may not win every time — skill and luck are always factors — but it’s like they’re playing on an easier difficulty setting, and over enough rounds of play, that skews things.

“[The drivers] are all based on us, the people that are in the piece,” she says. “I hope that in something so simplistic, people will understand the message.”


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