Gearing up for Louder than a Bomb

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March 21st, 2012

Omaha, NE – For the next few weeks, KVNO News will be profiling four high school students from across Omaha who will be competing in the city’s first Louder than a Bomb slam poetry contest. The competition originated in Chicago and is a unique opportunity to hear from the young people in our city – what they’re thinking, what they’re struggling with, and where they’re coming from. To kick off our coverage, Robyn Wisch talked with Matt Mason, the founder of the Nebraska Writer’s Collective, which is organizing the event.

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RW: Matt, thanks for coming in today.

MM: Hey, my pleasure.

RW: Omaha is hosting its first Louder than a Bomb competition in April. LTAB was featured in a documentary that screened in Omaha recently. But for those who didn’t see it, tell us what it’s all about.

MM: LTAB is a youth poetry festival involving different high schools. It started in Chicago. It now has almost 90 high schools and high school-age student organizations that compete in a poetry slam against each other. They go through this for weeks because there’s so many teams and bouts. They fill it up with workshops and different things going on. So it’s just kind of a big poetry festival for high school students.

The documentary Louder than a Bomb follows students from Chicago, where the competition originated:

RW: Slam poetry is a relatively new art form. What is a slam poem?

MM: Poetry slam started, they only started like 25 years ago in a bar in Chicago. There was a construction worker poet named Mark Smith, who decided to do something different on a poetry night. He brought score cards, handed them out to random audience members in the bar, and said okay, we’re going to send poets up, you judge them. Ten would read in the first round, five in the second, three in the third or something like that. So it’s just a way of putting the audience in charge of the poetry reading, so that what appeals to them that night is what you’ll hear more of through the night. It’s a nice twist on poetry. It doesn’t mean the best poet is going to win, necessarily, but it means the poet has to try reach the audience with their poems.

RW: So it really combines performance with poetry. Why do you think it appeals to young people in particular?

Matt Mason heads the Nebraska Writer's Collective, and is organizing Omaha's Louder than a Bomb competition.

MM: I think people have something in them that responds to poetry, responds to the kind of language that poetry’s about. It’s telling personal stories; it’s talking about feelings. But societally (sic) we’re kind of in a weird place where it’s difficult to find venues to do that … And here at a poetry slam, you can bring your opinions, you can talk about your personal experiences, you can tell your stories and get a response from the audience… It’s hitting all ages, but especially if you’re a teenager, you’ve got a lot of things that you’re figuring out emotionally and with the world, and this is a good way of dealing with it.

RW: So here at KVNO, we’re going to follow four of the students competing in Louder than a Bomb. I’ll just tell you why we decided to do this. This particular art form provides a unique voice for young people and a window for us to hear from them. And as a public radio station, that’s what we want – to hear from our community. So that’s why we’re devoting four segments to these students. We’ll be talking to people from Duchesne Academy, Creighton Prep, Omaha South High School and Lincoln High. But tell me what you have seen in the response from kids that are getting involved?

Lamar "The Truth" Jordan (center), featured in the Chicago documentary, met with writers in Omaha earlier this year. (Photo courtesy LTAB Omaha)

MM: It’s been fantastic. I know a couple of the students you’re following too are folks that found out about LTAB either through the movie or just heard talk around town, and we didn’t get the school involved, it was the student themselves who went to the school, got things organized and are making it happen. So a lot of the credit for what’s going on is to these students. So it’s fantastic. But it’s been really amazing too. At Lincoln High, they had more than 30 students try out for the team, who just found out about the idea and ran with it. Other schools have had that kind of interest too. The teacher at Lincoln High told me she’s never seen that much interest in poetry in her 15 or 20 years teaching there. So it’s just kind of neat.

RW: Louder than a Bomb kicks off April 15th at the PS Collective in Benson, and will continue at the Healing Arts Center. The final round takes place April 20th in the Harper Auditorium at Creighton University. Click here for a full schedule of the competition events. You can also hear our profiles of the students competing each Wednesday for the next four weeks, beginning today at 8:30 and 3pm.

Matt Mason is the guru of slam poetry here in Omaha, and we were lucky to have him here in the studio. Thanks for coming in.

MM: Thank you.

Our first segment in the upcoming four-part series: Louder than a Bomb: Duchesne’s Gina Keplinger

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