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Wisconsin teen poetry slam team selected, members get ready to go national

March 5, 2010

The six top-scoring competitors from last week’s Wisconsin Youth Poetry Slam Team finals are gearing up to compete at the Brave New Voices spoken-word international competition in Los Angeles in July.

Brave New Voices is a one-of-a-kind arts festival presented by Youth Speaks, the leading nonprofit presenter of spoken word performance, education and youth development programs in the country.

Marcelles Brown of the Milwaukee High School of the Arts; Darrel Butcher of Madison East High School; Elijah Furquan and Emmitt Williams, both of Reagan High School in Milwaukee; and Ricky Jones and Darien Power, both of Madison West High School, emerged from the spoken-word competition featuring 21 Milwaukee and Madison High School students.

“It was a two-tissue night,” Julie Underwood, dean of the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Education, says of the competition for a highly coveted spot on the team representing Wisconsin — an emotional, talent-packed display of the emerging art of spoken word poetry among youth.

“Wisconsin has an incredible level of spoken word talent. I’m very impressed,” says Adam McGuigan, a visiting judge and artist facilitator for Contacting the World, an international youth performance organization based in England.

Now begins the Wisconsin Teen Slam Team’s work with university coaches and mentors from the UW–Madison First Wave Hip-Hop Theater Ensemble in preparation to battle on the international stage. First Wave is a cutting-edge learning community centered on spoken word and hip-hop performance arts and includes past members of the Wisconsin Youth Slam Team as well as other top artists from across the nation who have participated in the Brave New Voices annual competition.

“Spoken-word poetry is an ancient art that is experiencing a renaissance among youth because of its healing power, along with aspects of team-building and the sometimes under-estimated degree of intellectual rigor it requires,” says Katrina Flores, arts in education director for the UW–Madison Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives (OMAI). “The linguistic and expressive skills these youth are developing through outside-the-box creative artistry will be exhibited at a higher level and to a more extensive degree in international competition.”

Teachers and community volunteers who are interested in learning more about the best practices in hip-hop and spoken word pedagogy should plan to attend the fifth annual Hip Hop and Spoken Word Teacher/Educator Institute on campus in July.

Each summer OMAI teams with Urban Word NYC to offer this weeklong program for teachers, educators, community leaders and education students to learn about infusing their curriculum with hip-hop based exercises and strategies.

The Wisconsin State Youth Poetry Slam is a project sponsored by OMAI with assistance from the First Wave Hip-Hop Theater Ensemble.