Anyone who feels the younger generation has nothing much to say has clearly not been going to the annual First Citizens National Poetry Slam competition, which last Sunday night, to a sellout audience, showcased 13 talented, thought-provoking performers who were all so good that they brought the house down at Globe Cinema.
Seth Sylvester won the slam in a soulful piece about overcoming a gangster state of mind; but the judges had a tough job selecting just one winner.
The Poetry Slam event, part of the recent Bocas Lit Fest, was by turns funny, searing, angry and imaginative, with some hard hitting social and political critiques as well as more personal tales of transcendence.
Themes were wide-ranging: from what it means to be a real man, to T&T’s earthquake-inducing corruption, to traumas of incest, violence, and divorce, to funny pieces including one on recession job-hunting and another on a man’s love-hate relationship with Flow TV.
In a spoken word show that was outstanding for the surprising quality, diversity and bravery of its content as well as for the smoothness of its organisation, the Poetry Slam competition demonstrated that if the model of the calypso tent is on the wane, then the spoken word format is breathing new life, relevance and style into T&T’s oral performing arts—and is capable of drawing a big audience of young listeners.
This is the second year of the National Poetry Slam but the fourth year that First Citizens has sponsored the Spoken Word event that offers a top prize of $20,000.
So what, exactly, is spoken word? It’s poetry for the stage rather than the page. It's an oral art form where the aesthetics of word play, intonation and voice inflection create a memorable experience for the listener, says Wikipedia. While often associated with hip-hop culture, spoken word also has strong ties to storytelling, modern poetry, poetry slams, post-modern performance, and monologue theatre, as well as jazz, blues, folk music, and even comedy routines.
The Guardian interviewed 26-year-old spoken word poet Jean-Claude Cournand at his Trincity base recently, to hear his thoughts on this oral art form. Cournand founded the non-profit youth development organisation 2 Cents Movement in 2012, and is the person behind the scenes helping a whole new generation of spoken word artists to tell their own stories, including performers at the Poetry Slam.
“Oral traditions are a fundamental foundation for cinema, music, rap, poetry, narratives, many forms,” believes Cournand, stating:
“A good storyteller, to me, is one of the greatest and most powerful persons in any society, whether it’s Barrack Obama telling a story through a speech, or a corporate communications officer drafting a narrative for his company. Storytelling is central.”
Once a formal debater at college, Cournand decided to use performing arts and digital media to develop his own voice as a spoken word poet. He now helps others do this, too, through the 2 Cents Movement, which develops performance art pieces to “challenge youth to think deeply, speak boldly, care selflessly and act decisively” on social issues.
Cournand wants 2 Cents Movement to be a sustainable, income earning business which helps youth develop—whether it’s through civic engagement, learning good performance skills, making art, or simply helping youth. 2 Cents Movement now has its own Trincity office space, and staff members including a director, an operations manager, and a small media team of a graphic artist, a videographer, and an artistic director. It has a current rehearsal core of 16 performance poets.
The 2 Cents Movement has been very popular in secondary schools, during annual tours and spoken word performance workshops there. “On an annual basis we work with over 30,000 people,” says Cournand. The 2 Cents Movement tours and teaches in over 50 secondary schools, he said; they are now going into primary schools; and the Movement organises the biggest annual Open Mic at UWI Speak and USC Speak.
Why do students like spoken word so much?
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