Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Get Lit! Wrap

Eastern Washington University's annual literary festival is now in the books (nice pun, eh?), and this morning, we have a nice guest column in the Spokesman Review about one of the events. The Youth Poetry Slam is turning out to be a huge success, and here's the organizers perspective on why this type of program is so vital to our community.
The author by the way is coordinator of Get Lit!'s Young Writers Program, an EWU community outreach initiative.

(Guest opinion)

Poetry slam exhibits budding arts talent

Marny Lombard Special to The Spokesman-ReviewApril 24, 2007

The arts and culture of Spokane took a leap the other night. In a downtown coffee house, teens of diverse backgrounds chanted, crooned, sang, provoked, demanded and inspired the standing-room-only audience of the fifth annual Spokane Teen Poetry Slam.
Performers demonstrated impressive mastery of language. They used humor, pathos and irony. Rhythm, cadence and rhyme. They shone their intelligence on topics large and small: Misogyny and meth. Stereotypes and sex. Dreams and demons. They unpacked family tragedies, reclaimed tribal identities and reached across the globe to the children of Sudan.
A poem titled "Old Man, Young Girl" explored the difficult territory of being a daughter on the brink of womanhood. Another work, performed by a team of three students from the Medicine Wheel Academy, counterpoised images of mainstream culture against those of tribal tradition.
More than one spectator wiped away tears.
The occasion was the fifth annual Spokane Teen Poetry Slam, which spilled out of the Empyrean Coffee House onto the sidewalk just down from an even larger crowd that waited on the sidewalk for urban ministry CityGate to open for the evening. This was an urban event in an urban location, attracting students rural and suburban, gay and straight, white and Indian, middle-class and not. They came from Deer Park, Crosswalk, Central Valley, Sandpoint, North Central, Medicine Wheel Academy, St. George's School, Eastern Washington University and Spokane Valley High School.
Emcee Daniel Harrington, who for the duration of the evening bore the irreverent nickname of "Big Jesus," navigated the crowd through the rules and passions of poetry slam. "It's the poetry, not the points," he told poets whose scores failed to soar. Some performers confessed at the outset this was their first slam, the fluttering edge of their paper a visible sign of their nerves. Others held the stage and crowd as confidently as any seasoned storyteller or songwriter.
In the language of Washington state's writing standards, the work of these young poets was both expository and persuasive. But this was a long way from the WASL, baby. These poems don't evolve from canned prompts. They arise from individual passion, frustration and insight into our society – age-old sources for the literary arts.
This event, which took place as part of the ninth annual Get Lit! Festival, was produced by Writers in the Community, an internship program of Eastern Washington University's Inland Northwest Center for Writers. Harrington, who has developed Spokane Poetry Slam, a series of youth slams, has invited the top three performers from the other night to participate in his semifinal slam on Wednesday. A local final competition will follow in May, and the top four poets will become Spokane's team in the National Poetry Slam in Austin, Texas. If you think that's a first for Spokane, you're dead on.
Poetry slams are a funky kind of animal. They're loud and often profane. They're anything but mom and apple pie. Not every poet clamors for their chance at a slam. And not every language arts teacher has the background or inclination to properly support these young bards.
But this Get Lit! event – graced by Native American students who introduced themselves by name and tribe, by a Sandpoint poetess whose wisdom and wit brought to mind a young Maria Muldaur, by any number of articulate young people who trekked through a landscape of contemporary culture – was as a sweet a celebration of the diversity, strength and courage of our youth as one could find.
Sometimes I wonder why it is that, of the Three R's, reading has a strong lobby, and math has an articulate cadre of proponents. Writing sometimes seems to be the freckled stepchild, with no guardians at all beyond the most core concerns about spelling, grammar and soundly written business letters.
We can do so much better. If we are serious about making Spokane and the Inland Northwest a place where all children flourish, where youth learn that their voices matter – if we have the vision to reach beyond the basics – our community should make youth arts and culture a hallmark of the Inland Northwest.

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