St. Louis Youth Poetry Slam Team Is Competing in an International Competition

VerbQuake team members: Joi McClain, Tobias Wells aka Majovah, Aly Terry, & Zack Lesmeister - Photo Courtney of UrbArts
Photo Courtney of UrbArts
VerbQuake team members: Joi McClain, Tobias Wells aka Majovah, Aly Terry, & Zack Lesmeister

You won’t find any ‘’roses are red/violets are blue” poetry from the VerbQuake Youth Poetry Slam team. Their rhymes come with literary left hooks and uppercuts of truth when competing for the win. And just as every great sport has its championship game, VerbQuake is representing Saint Louis at this year's Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival, which takes place in San Francisco this weekend.

VerbQuake arrived in San Francisco yesterday morning, just in time for the opening ceremony. The poetry slam finals are only a portion of the festival though.

In its 20th year, Brave New Voices, or BNV, engages students between the ages of thirteen through nineteen for four days of workshops, poetry slams, showcases, community service and civic participation events annually. The slam enlists poets to perform only original written poetry under three minutes in length with no props. The winning team takes home the ultimate slam poetry bragging rights.

As a teen performing arts program, VerbQuake serves sixteen St. Louis area high schools and their students, including Grand Center Arts Academy, Kirkwood, and Marquette high schools. Each year, individual school teams gear up to compete against each other, with their poets vying to land a spot on the coveted VerbQuake team. The six poets who are chosen then compete at the international level.

Bisa Adero, St. Louis Youth Poet Laureate at VerbQuake Final - Courtesy of UrbArts
Courtesy of UrbArts
Bisa Adero, St. Louis Youth Poet Laureate at VerbQuake Final

UrbArts is the non-profit organization that has led the VerbQuake program for the last six years. The St. Louis program gives young high school students a safe space to challenge their peers and their community through critical performative poetry.

Says team member Joi McClain, a graduate of Metro Academic and Classical High School, “It’s already great being able to do something we love, but it’s [even better] being able to do something you love and get acknowledged for it."

When it comes to preparing for the slam, Bisa Adero says, “It’s a lot of writing, and if we don’t like something, we’ll write a whole new thing.” Adero, eighteen and a graduate of Grand Center Arts Academy, earned both a spot on the VerbQuake team and the title of St. Louis Youth Poet Laureate after a competitive submission process.

She adds, “We didn’t win last year, so we’re trying to win this year.” And with more than 50 teams present from all over the world, VerbQuake is set to compete head-to-head against a team from Capetown, South Africa in the first round of the quarterfinals.

As they say in the Brave New Voices slam, “It’s not about the points, it’s about the poetry.” But VerbQuake is still rooting for the win.
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