Unless you have teens in your family or work with them in some capacity, it’s easy to lose touch with what being a young person is like. But as the true cliche goes, the youth are the future, and if one cares about the future, without some direct experience of young people, the future becomes even more abstract. Most television programming tells us next to nothing about adolescent reality today, being based on marketing values and stereotypes. News media tell us mostly about worst-case episodes and trends. The result is that too many adults become basically clueless about what teens face in life today.
This is one reason I try to go to the local Youth Speaks Teen Poetry Slam every year. Last week’s event, held in San Francisco, was part of the 16th annual “Grand Slam Finals,” in which 13 young poets, winnowed down from over a hundred, compete in front of a large crowd to be one of five going to the national championship event in July. The competition is open to any youth 13-19 years old in the greater Bay Area, and as last evening’s MC Josh Healy put it, “Teachers might encourage a promising poet to compete, and the poet might first think ‘well, at least it might be a way to get out of class’ — but then wind up here in front of thousands.” Poets reading their work are graded by a star panel of judges and the tallied votes determine who moves forward to the next round.
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