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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 21, 2006

Youths speak up through slam poetry

 • Youth Speaks excerpts

By Carol Egan
Special to The Advertiser

From left, Alex Lum, Kathy Jetnil, Ittai Wong, Christina King, Alaka'i Kotrys and Kelly Aldinger rehearse at The Movement Center in Kaimuki on a recent evening. The team is heading for a national competition.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Team members will perform:

  • at Speak Out!, part of the Girl Fest activities, today at Ong King, 184 N. King St. Hours are from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. Admission is $5. Also performing: the band X-Factor, a guest DJ and a lineup of emerging local bands. This all-ages event, which also includes food and visual art, follows a Take Back the Night march and rally at 6:30 p.m. at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa Sustainability Courtyard. www.girlfesthawaii.org.

  • at 4 p.m. Saturday on the grounds of Honolulu Hale as part of the Hawai'i Book & Music Festival. Free. www.hawaiibookandmusicfestival.org.

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    Education, child abuse and stalking are the stuff of poetry slam poetry, that is, for six teenagers who will take part in Brave New Voices: The International Youth Poetry Slam Festival, an annual nationwide competition.

    The 13- to 18-year-olds, going by the names of Alaka'i, A-Lex, Dinger, Ittai, Kat and X-Teener, leave Monday for New York, accompanied by mentors TravisT, Melvin, Kealoha, Darron, Lyz and Stri, and one parent.

    These teenagers are probably some of the hardest-working students in Hawai'i. While their peers practice after-school sports or hang out at the mall, this group has been rehearsing every weeknight and performing around town on weekends, including events tonight and Saturday.

    Watching them rehearse, one is struck by their self-confidence and sophistication. Speaking to them individually, their shared love of and longtime involvement in writing is apparent. Seeing them perform, the passion and energy they display are awe-inspiring.

    Ittai Wong, 14, a Kailua Intermediate School student, has been with the group since December 2004 after Kealoha visited one of his classes. "Before coming, he asked us to write a poem," Wong says. "I wrote something about my father's smoking. Later I was asked by the American Lung Association to present that piece. I got out of school to do it. It was cool." As proof of his love of poetry, Wong shows a journal filled with his writing.

    Some students, discovered through outreach programs serviced by the mentors, are encouraged to join the free youth workshops that take place Wednesdays from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at The Arts at Marks Garage. Alaka'i Kotrys, 13, a student at Halau Ku Mana charter school, was one, brought on by TravisT.

    Alex Lum, 16, a junior at Kalani High School, is one of three veterans on the team and the author of two of the pieces that will be performed in New York.

    "We were the top six in the (local) Youth Speaks Grand Slam competition," Lum says of the New York-bound team. "Last year three of us (including Kelly 'Dinger' Aldinger, 18, a senior at Punahou, and Ittai Wong) went to San Francisco for nationals. We didn't do that well, but it was a really good experience. It really opened our eyes to what's out there. We met some really great people from all over the country, and even from Europe."

    Another author is Christina King (aka X-Teener), 18, from Campbell High School.

    Asked why slam poetry appeals to young people, Kathy "Kat" Jetnil, 18, a senior at the UH Lab School, says, "I think this kind of poetry speaks volumes more to kids because of the way it's presented and the issues it discusses. It's all very real to us."