It was dark, and quiet, and the only thing that I could see was a lit stage that became home to teens, who filled the room with poetry and energy. Alongside me sat families and poets waiting for their names to be called, names that would someday be called again for a spot on the New York City team for the National Teen Poetry Slam Championships in San Francisco.
I watched the dream begin as the competition started with roughly 500 poets: teens from all over NYC who shared their stories through their poetry. Some shared thoughts on abstinence, stereotypes, identities, and poetry releases, while others shared stories of people they knew, deceased loved ones, and dark secrets that had poets shedding tears. Like Hannah, a teenager who wrote a poem about her dreadful encounter with an older boy in a janitor closet. I was a part of the teary-eyed crowd when she read it.
The semifinals brought the poetry to a higher level as many strived for a spot in the Grand Slams. There was poetry about HIV, self-esteem, and other countries’ distresses. It was amazing to see how aware today’s youth are of the world and their surroundings. The decisions on which poet to keep became harder and harder, and when some poets did not make it a few of them cried. Other poets, judges, and people from the audience came to console them and the only thing they could say was, “Keep writing, you hear?”
The Grand Slam was out of this world. Backstage I found poets reciting performance pieces together, receiving positive feedback and helpful suggestions. Obviously it was about the poetry and not the competition. When I asked one poet, Laura, about her feelings at that time, she answered philosophically, “There is no time left for doubt, I just have to believe.”
Soon the poets had to slam, and their confidence filled the room. There were numerous topics, and the audience loved it all. When the slams were over and the six poets were chosen, the crowd cracked windows with applause. Brian, Aja Monet, Maya Williams, Kesed Ragin, Erica Buddington, and Jaylene Clark were to represent the teen poets of New York at the Brave New Voices national championships in San Francisco.
“I translate the names of boys killed in Gaza”By Ghinwa Jawhari
DEC 21-JAN 22 | Poetry
Ghinwa Jawhari is the author of the chapbook BINT (Radix Media 2021), winner of the inaugural Own Voices Chapbook Prize. She is a 2021 Margins Fellow at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and founder of the Koukash Review. Find her poetry, essays, and fiction in Mizna, Catapult, SPEAK, Narrative, The Margins, and elsewhere.
Ride HomeBy Yehui Zhao
APRIL 2023 | Critics Page
Before my seven-day quarantine at a hotel in Fujian Province, I, along with other passengers, were swallowed by a mother sperm whale named Dōng Fāng东方. She was our ride home.
From the City of Angels to the City of PoetsBy Neeli Cherkovski
MAY 2022 | Poetry
Neeli Cherkovskis recent poetry collections are hang onto the Yangtze River, and elegy for my beat generation. His biography of Charles Bukowski was recently published in a new edition by David Godine, and he is completing a new addition of his biography of Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He is also working on a book of poetry profiles, multitudes and his memoir, hyper. He lives in San Francisco.
Portrait of a RoomBy Raymond Foye
MARCH 2023 | Art
For almost sixty years Jordan Belson lived in the same charming corner of San Francisco, the bohemian enclave known as North Beach, named after the region of Italy from where the locals emigratedthe Gulf of Trieste. Rents were cheap and neighbors tolerant.