Ascension Parish’s Brave New Voices

Leslie D. Rose Weekly Citizen Editor
The area students who will compete under the team name Forward Arts All Stars are Dutchtown High School’s very own Jolie Gilbert, 17 and Amaris Wilson, 16.

It is Thursday, July 16, 2015, a group of six southeast area Louisiana students are preparing to use their words in competition.

The competition, The Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival, is an annual event hosted by San Francisco based organization, Youth Speaks.

A poetry slam is an Olympic-style competition where poets read original work. No costumes, musical accompaniment or props are permitted. Each poem is scored by five judges, on a scale of 0-10, with the low and high scores dropped, giving the poet a possible perfect total of 30.

The area students who will compete under the team name Forward Arts All Stars are Madalyn Mullins, 17 and Arvind Nandakumar, 17 – both of Baton Rouge Magnet High, Amber Torrence, 17 of McKinley High (Baton Rouge), JaMarcus Goudeau, 17 of East Feliciana High (Clinton), and Dutchtown High School’s very own Jolie Gilbert, 17 and Amaris Wilson, 16.

Garnering placement on the All Star team via the regional ALL CITY Teen Poetry Slam Festival hosted by Forward Arts, Inc. (Baton Rouge), the students must first be members of a school or youth group sponsored team. The annual area festival, held each year in April since 2007, selects one group as team champions, and further builds its All Star team from the top-ranking individual poets from the competition.

Wilson held the highest score of the event’s Grand Slam finals to nab her placement on the All Star team.

Wilson and Gilbert each said they began writing poetry as younger children, but that it was through workshops facilitated by Forward Arts’ Donney Rose at their school, that encouraged them to put their writings on stage.

“In eighth grade I went to slam camp through Forward Arts, and that was when I was first introduced to slam poetry, and since then most of my writing has been for the stage,” Wilson said.

She continuted that slam poetry empowered her to understand the importance of her thoughts.

Gilbert agreed that performing her work helped to build her self-confidence, but she said it has also broadened her horizons.

“I’m excited to be exposed to a lot of different people,” Gilbert said.

“I’m not sure how that will impact my community, but I hope people will be excited, and maybe other young poets will say ‘hey, I can do that too.’”

While in competition, the All Stars will be in bouts with teams from Houston, Texas; Los Angeles; Tulsa, Okla.; Kansas City, Mo; Philadelphia, Penn.; Washington, D.C.; St. Louis, Mo.; and Cape Town, South Africa – three of the aforementioned teams were 2014 finalists.

But while both Gilbert and Wilson said they enjoy competition, both girls said expressing themselves, and bringing to light personal stories in which other girls may find useful, is most important.

They both present poems like this all throughout the team’s extensive poetry roster. One of which Wilson said she is most excited about, is a poem for her older brother, who died when she was much younger.

“It’s about me speaking to my deceased brother, and all of the feelings that I had about him – it’s a poem about my relationship with his death,” Wilson said. “It was something I was afraid to talk about for a long time, so I’m excited to share it. I hope that people will get that it’s okay to talk about your feelings about death.”

Gilbert and Wilson also take part in a four person group poem with the other two women members of the All Star team – it is in that untitled poem that they attack the concept of misogyny, and how they began feeling it against them, as young as fifth grade.

The team has been coached by two-time, third ranked world poetry slam champion, Desiree Dallagiacomo. The youth team is accompanied by Dallagiacomo, along with Chancelier “xero” Skidmore – Forward Arts’ executive director and one time Individual World Poetry Slam champion; and Donney Rose – Baton Rouge’s Eclectic Truth’s poetry slam slammaster and Forward Arts’ director of programming.

Forward Arts, a multi-generational collective of youth, artists, and educators committed to providing learning opportunities in southeast Louisiana, is a staple in the Dutchtown community, presenting annual writing residencies at its high school.