By Any Media Necessary: Mapping Youth and Participatory Politics


Poetry is a powerful and playful medium for storytelling. It's been developed since ancient Sumerian, Chinese, and Greek times. Today there are a number of different genres that permeate youth and popular culture. One particularly dominant form is the use of "Slam Poetry" amongst activist and literacy organizations.

Poetry, and "Slam Poetry" in particular, are useful tools for developing public speaking skills, complex story structure techniques, and metaphorical uses of language. Poetic genres are often defined by structural rules with a range of rigidity, Haiku being a classic example. These rules help define creative constraints in which writers learn to play against or develop.

The element of live performance in poetry offers another visceral dimension in which poets can play. Daniel Beaty's "Knock Knock" illustrates the nuanced, emotional intensity that can be reached with a short-form, repetitive poetic structure. In Beaty's piece, he uses a single phrase "knock knock" as a thematic cue that runs throughout and develops from his personal story of his father's incarceration to an inspirational rallying of disenfranchised Black Americans. Beaty has since moved on to develop programs to teach youth how to harness poetry to overcome painful circumstances and empower themselves. 

Amongst the organizations analyzed, such as Youth Speak and their Brave New Voices project, slam poetry has become a cornerstone for empowering youth and developing their literacy skills. One common use of their poetic storytelling is to share personal experiences that are creatively frame by larger themes and systematic issues, such as genderracial, and economic inequality.

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