Two brave new voices have emerged from the Grosse Pointes.
Both graduates of Grosse Pointe South High School, Analise Bissa, class of 2013, and Victor Shaw, class of 2012, were part of a five-person team who presented their poems in an August nation-wide competition in Chicago, Brave New Voices.
“This is the biggest youth culture festival in the world with over 800 youth from the country and the world,” said Ben Alfaro, one of three coaches for the team.
According to Alfaro, who has participated three times when an Ann Arbor high school student, the young people learned different presentation dynamics from their counterparts hailing from other states and around the world making them aware of “what they can maneuver in life.”
The 2013 poetry slam was on the campus of the University of Chicago. Individuals and groups recite and perform poetry in 3 1/2 minute segments before an audience and five judges, Alfaro said. Judges are sometimes selected randomly from the audience and others are well known names, such as poets and performance artists Kevin Coval, Roger Bonair-Agard and Marc Bamuthi-Joseph.
The young poets recite, from memory, original work. No outside instruments are allowed to enhance the performance. Students use their voices and body movements to convey their messages.
Selected in May, the five have been rehearsing their presentations with their coaches. Other team members include a Renaissance High School graduate, a Mumford High School graduate and a junior from Mumford.
“We have practiced performance editing and group editing. We also have them do several (live) performances around Detroit” to get them acclimated to a live audience, he said.
“Their poetry is honest,” Alfaro said in a phone interview about the team’s works. “They are eager to push the boundaries of what the audience may think poetry is about. They challenge the audiences. They are not one dimensional. They are really engaging performers and they are unique, have different qualities in their writing. It’s fun for me as a coach to work with them.”
Contestants were graded on a zero to 10 scale with 50 percent of the score based on craft and 50 percent on conveyance. There was no censorship, said Alfaro, who represented Michigan three of his four years in high school. He is a student at Wayne State University studying urban planning and is also working with the Detroit Public Library’s InsideOut Literary Arts Project.
“If they win the whole thing, it is a huge accomplishment,” he said. “You get the title. They all will feel validated in their art work. Regardless of where they place, they still use this art form.”
Francine Harris and Justin Rodgers, a member of the 2011 team that took fourth in the world competition, make up the rest of the coaching staff.