Brave New Voices — I Have No Words Left


Every summer I go to Brave New Voices, the International Youth Poetry Slam Festival that I help organize with Youth Speaks. And every summer I leave more amazed than the year before. Not necessarily because the poetry is better (although this year I loved the renewed emphasis on WRITING, and not just high-polished poems). Not because the new city is the best every (trust me, LA is beautiful, but getting 500 poets all over that mass of freeways…I’ll take public transportation over palm trees any day).

What really amazes me about BNV is simple: the people. The community that’s formed over 5 days: the love, the support, the endless (and I mean ENDLESS) ciphers, the aggregation of individual identities into an international collective of joy and liberation…it’s beyond anything I can describe.

So I won’t try.

Instead, let me offer these images from the BNV Finals, which took place on July 23 and culminated my favorite, most exhausting week of the year. If you weren’t lucky enough to witness the event in person, don’t worry, HBO filmed the finals for a 90-minute special to air this year.

All photos credit to Adriel Luis
Video credit to Chris Zweigle

Welcome to the show! The beautiful Saban Theater in Beverly Hills. We were all over LA throughout the week: Pasadena, Hollywood, Santa Monica, and our home base at Occidental College.

The hosts for the evening, Common and Rosario Dawson. Rosario started slow, but got into the spirit as the night went on. Common was as stiff as his collar all night — with one notable exception (see video later).

Stockton delivered one of the best pieces of the night. They weren’t in finals, but did one of the showcase poems. Brilliant performance, and showed how you can use an ensemble to full effect.

The poet from Albuquerque with her amazing, feminist “Fuck You” to Marilyn Monroe.

The crowd goes wild, like they did all night. The Bay Area team in the middle showing hella love. Yeeeee!

Jasmine Williams from the Bay with the team’s final piece. Their squad made it all the way to finals with solo pieces only. With writers like we’ve got here in the Bay, that’s all we needed.

BNV is all about the hugs.

The judges: Mayda Del Valle, Beau Sia, Talib Kweli, and (not pictured) Sinaa Lathan and Penn Teller. They were actually pretty consistent for a bunch of famous, pretty faces. (Yes, I’m including you in the “pretty” crowd too, Beau — just not famous.)

THE moment of finals. Denver turned the mic’s directly to the judges and dared them to go below the unspoken rule of a minimum score of an 8.0 that BNV uses. “Don’t coddle us / if we deserve a 7 / give us a 7!” The crowd went CRAZY, and shouted “SEVEN! SEVEN! SEVEN!” When the scores were given, four judges gave a 7 and were cheered…then one judge gave a 10 — and was booed! It was the funniest thing I’d ever seen at BNV, and a reminder of what the competition is — and isn’t.

The last poem of the night. Urban Word NYC brings the tears, and the audience responded in kind.


And last but not least, you can’t have BNV without dozens of young poets rushing the stage, right? This time, they had some special guests too. (If the video quality is good enough, check the terrified look on Talib’s face when he sees what’s coming at him).