Poetry ‘Bomb’ blows attendees away

By Sean Stillmaker

Schools stretching across the state made their way to the Vic Theatre on March 8 for the final round of a fiercely fought poetry slam.

Louder Than a Bomb, hosted by Young Chicago Authors, is Chicago’s largest team-based youth poetry competition and this year had the largest turnout in its nine-year history. The slam was also filmed by HBO and will be a part of a seven-episode series airing on April 5.

“It sort of exploded and created this rockstar mentality with teenagers across the city,” said Nat Iosbaker, 17, a four-year veteran of the slam.

Louder Than a Bomb is for 13-to-19-year-old students of competing schools. The two-week event began on Feb. 25 with the preliminaries held at Columbia’s Hokin Annex in the Wabash Campus Building, 623 S. Wabash Ave., and the Conaway Center in the 1104 Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave.

When the competition began, there were 12 local competing teams. This year 57 schools competed, and it was the first time the competition was offered statewide.

“We’re getting larger and larger because the word is getting out,” said team captain Iosbaker, a student at Jones College Prep, 606 S. State St.

Poetry slams attract youth because it gives them a safe platform to express themselves, said C.C. Carter, executive director of Young Chicago Authors.

“We live in a generation where youth feel like their voices are not being heard, and this is one of the ways people can hear them,” Carter said.

The national poetry scene is now more visible due to shows like “Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry,” she said.

The aldermen of the special events committee, which provides grant money to Young Chicago Authors, were in attendance at the March 8 finals, but had no idea what to expect.

What they walked away with was a profound insight into Chicago’s youth, said Alderman Walter Burnett (27th Ward).

“You felt everything they were saying,” Burnett said.

Burnett has a 13-year-old son and said he finds it challenging to get kids to talk because they hold a lot of things in.

“At Louder Than a Bomb, they just let it all out,” he said. “It was so exciting to see young people so interested but also motivated to want to write.”

Young Chicago Authors, which hosts Louder Than a Bomb, is an organization that provides writing classes for Chicago Public Schools and communities. They encourage self-expression and literacy through creative writing, performance and publication, according to their mission statement.

Young Chicago Authors began in 1991 as a Saturday writing class but has evolved into a wide-reaching academic asset, Carter said. Young Chicago Authors has writing programs in 60 Chicago Public Schools, 10 local art organizations and reaches more than 5,000 youths each year, Carter said.

“[Their various programs] automatically help [students] in increasing their academic skills and study habits,” she said.

Keekey Itson, a six-year veteran of Louder Than a Bomb, received help perfecting her skills at the Young Chicago Author’s Saturday writing program.

“It helped me a lot with my poetry, like using different ways to express myself, especially without using sentences,” Itson said.

This was her final year performing in the team competition, but she will look back with fond memories, she said.

“This whole journey has been great,” she said. “This year was by far my favorite, it was the biggest and definitely amazing.”

The winner of this year’s team competition was Niles West, 5701 Oakton St., inSkokie, Ill. The team will go on to represent Illinois at the international youth poetry slam, Brave New Voices, taking place in Chicago this year in July. Young Chicago Authors will be co-hosting the event.