News from Hillsborough High School in Tampa, Fla.

Student finds her voice through poetry

April 2, 2017

Everyone has their ways of showing their voices and talents, whether it be through art, protests, speeches or poetry slams. On the last Friday of every month, junior Jenisis Miller and other teens from around the Tampa area meet together at the Blind Tiger Café in Ybor City to take part in an open mic or compete in poetry slams where they get to showcase their writing and poetry to a small public audience.

The poetry slams and open mics are a chance for teens to share their beliefs and emotions in a safe place. “It gives people a chance to express themselves and gives a safe and fun area for them to be while doing it,” said Jack Beattie, who runs the cafe.

Yet, there is more to it than random people performing poetry at an Ybor café.

There is a difference between the open mic and the poetry slam. The open mic is simple; just a fun way for anyone to enjoy coffee and some poetry on your average Friday night. People can come in and sign their name on a performance list and wait their turn while watching others speak.

The poetry slams have a little bit more to them. The slams are when teens all around the Tampa area join the “Heard em’ say” slam team and compete for spots to a national poetry slam competition. “Before this year started the open mic was just a regular open mic for fun,” Miller said. “Now since January there’s [been a slam] and kids are slamming to get on the team to go to the Brave New Voices competition in the summer.”

Six people are chosen through a system of points, earned based on how they performed and the work spoken during slams, to place in a national competition called Brave New Voices in Los Angeles.

The competition is held every summer where slam teams meet up for four days to face off and show off their poetry. The top six with the most points before the competition are chosen to represent the team at the competition.

“The difference is to think of it like ashowcase versus a talent show,” Miller said.“In talent shows you’re competing to place and a showcase is just showing your talent.” ‘

Miller is determined to work hard and practice so that she can get one of the spots on the Brave New Voices team. “I plan on going to the poetry workshops every Saturday. I plan on writing and editing my poems every single day and practicing my performance element of the poems,” Miller said. “I believe I have a really great chance of making the BNV team because I work very hard. My very first slam ever I gotsecond place so I can imagine what more I can do in the future.”

Millers writing focuses on social issues and problems she believes the world faces today. “I’m a black girl so I write about how we’re not usually seen as beautiful, shootings and things like that,” Miller said. (As shown in this excerpt from her poem Black Bird: “They try to marginalize you in the steel bars they set to cage you. But you have the ability to break through or fly over any obstacle. They cannot tame you.”)

Whether people are there for the slams or for open mic it is still a fun night according to Beattie. “It’s fun, It’s open, It’s energetic, everybody’s always having a good time and they’re here to enjoy themselves,” Beattie said.

Miller has been writing since she was young and always loved to do it. “Competing in slams is new to me but poetry and music has always been an outlet for me,” Miller said. ”It really helps with venting and just expressing myself through melodies and metaphors.”

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