Slam Poetry Team Heads to Philadelphia

Poetry Slam PracticeLook out Philadelphia, Des Moines is coming! Team Des Moines, that is; the half dozen powerhouse poets that will represent DMPS next week at the 17th annual Brave New Voices Youth Poetry Festival.

Leah Waughtal, Bao Luong, Russhaun Johnson and Julio Delgadillo, all of North HS; Susan Stacy from Hoover and Elhondra Brazzle from East took to the stage in the auditorium at Central Campus Thursday afternoon to get the juices flowing so they’ll be ready to hit the ground “spitting” when they land in the City of Brotherly Love for the slamfest that is BNV, scheduled for July 16-20.

Team Des Moines will be extra energized by its invitation to perform at the Opening Ceremony and be heard by 54 teams from across the world. “This is a huge honor, and a testament to the hard work they’ve done throughout the year,” said Co-Coach/Mentor/Chaperone Emily Lang. “We are so proud!”

Waughtal and Delgadillo were members of last year’s team that competed in Chicago, the first time a team from Iowa had entered. “The opening ceremonies were overwhelming,” recalled Waughtal. “And now we get to perform at them.”

Philly is Rocky Balboa, Smokin’ Joe Frazier and cheesesteaks. It’s where our independence was declared. The 1950 Phillies team that made it to the World Series was known as The Whiz Kids because the roster was so full of young talent. Now, whiz kids from all over will descend for a world series of a different sort that will culminate in the Grand Slam Finals on July 19 at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. Can Team Des Moines get that far? If so, great; if not, no matter. Yes, it’s a competition but the emphasis is on collaboration. “The best part is really meeting and supporting our peers from everywhere else,” said Stacy. “It’s more about learning from each other than trying to beat each other.”

Whatever happens, the team will be well-prepared. Besides the usual brain trust of teachers Lang and Kristopher Rollins, the founders and leaders of Movement 515 from whence this all has come, the students have been prepped throughout the year by Maddie Cramer who was a member of Team Denver, last year’s BNV champion. Long story short, she came to Des Moines this year to study at Drake University and attached herself to M515. At Thursday’s practice she had lots of good advice to share about pieces that localized global issues ranging from racism in the classroom to the dynamics between fathers and daughters.

There has been some fine speechifying over the years in Philadelphia. Ben Franklin, sometimes referred to as “the first American,” ran away to the city as a teenager. At the age of 21, he created the Junto, a group of “like minded aspiring artisans and tradesmen who hoped to improve themselves while they improved their community.” The Junto was a discussion group for issues of the day.

Franklin described the formation and purpose of the Junto in his autobiography:

“I should have mentioned before, that, in the autumn of the preceding year, [1727] I had form’d most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club of mutual improvement, which we called the Junto; we met on Friday evenings. The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss’d by the company; produce and read an essay of his own writing, on any subject he pleased.

Our debates were…to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute or desire of victory…”

Hmm – Franklin was many things during his remarkable lifetime; scientist, inventor, statesman, rebel, printer (the trade he was said to be most proud of) and yes, a poet. No wonder the Junto reads more than a little like Team Des Moines and M515.

Remember the faces in the pictures that accompany this story. Maybe one day they’ll be on your money.

View photos of poetry practice

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