The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Teens Rock Mics Like Vandals

By Betsy Mikel in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 19, 2010 10:20PM

2010_02_ltab.jpg Back in 2000, Kevin Coval and Anna West were spending a lot of time in failing Chicago public schools. They noticed that plenty of the students were plenty smart. The kids had interesting and thought-provoking things to say about their lives and the world around them. Coval and Smith wanted to give these students an opportunity to prove they could succeed. And so, with a mission to give youth a voice that could not be reckoned with, Louder Than a Bomb teen poetry slam was born.

Ten years later, Young Chicago Authors-sponsored Louder Than a Bomb has some strong numbers: an 85% high school graduation rate. Zero incidents of violence. And this year, 500 students with 60 teams will compete. What's the draw? LTAB is the largest poetry slam of its kind for teens. Inner city students, suburban students, and everything-in-between students stand on stage in front of an audience and put their hearts and souls into three-minute poems. Then, the poetry of their hearts and souls is judged. After a semifinal round and final round, one team advances to the national Brave New Voices competition in Los Angeles. With so many more losers than winners, LTAB festival director Robbie Q. Telfer says the points are not the point. The point is poetry.

In fact, due to the subjectivity of the judging and of poetry itself, Telfer says the best teams rarely win. The 2007 winning team was better and stronger when they competed in 2008, and they didn't even make it past semifinals. Many LTAB teams return to compete each year, but the results are always different. LTAB reminds participants that the competition is secondary to building an artistic community. The festival exists to bring groups of teens together where they can teach and learn from one another and combat the belief that their ideas don't deserve to be heard.

We're suggesting you check out LTAB, but we know listening to a bunch of high schoolers perform poetry doesn't exactly sound like everyone's idea of a good time. We'll let you in on a little secret. Some of us don't even like poetry, and we're going. Why? Well, we watched the video below, and we listened to recordings of some of last year's finalists on the WBEZ site. These kids are good. They don't even sound like kids. They sound like storytellers owning the stage and the mic. We'll be there because we like good stories. Even more, Chicago teens have not had a good year in the news. We are proud that there's some legit youth empowerment in our city that we can stand behind. LTAB is accomplishing what it set out to do ten years ago, and we're certain it will keep blowing up in years to come.

Video by Louder Than a Bomb.

Louder Than a Bomb programming kicks off today. Preliminaries start Feb. 22 and finals will be held at the Vic Theater on March 6. Download the festival schedule for more details.