Dallas Youth Poets Fly High on Spoken Word

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

When can paper airplanes propel teens into the wonders of poetry? When you decorate those flying sheets with choice lines from the works of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.

With paper planes in hand, six teens forming the Uncle Walt and Aunt Emily teams tossed them toward a couple of octagons taped to the floor – one encircling the letter “E” and the other surrounding the letter “W.” The planes that cleared the octagons became inspiration for a poetry and prose writing assignment.

Teamwork, even in poetry, is vital. That was a key mantra of the Dallas Youth Poets workshop held Saturday afternoon, Jan. 23, 2016 at Big Thought’s Blue Room.

Dallas Youth Poets, which was founded by internationally renowned spoken word artist Joaquin Zihuatanejo, provides youth with a platform to hone their performance poetry skills and share their voice. Dallas Youth Poets is part of a partnership with Big Thought’s Creative Solutions program. DYP’s free, spoken word poetry workshops are always open to anyone under 19.

Teaching artists for the workshops comprise a group of local spoken word artists and educators, including John Oberly, Thom Browne III, who is also a DaVerse Lounge consultant, Princess McDowell, and Terry Odis, a DaVerse Lounge teaching artist.

Zihuatanejo took the lead during the recent Saturday workshop, taking the six teens on a fun yet intense ride through online poetry searches, creative writing assignments and impromptu 30-second monologues. The kids even got a three-minute stretch exercise session courtesy of Oberly’s peaceful instruction.

“We strive to find new and inventive ways for students to not only research poetry of master poets, in this case Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, but we also want to find innovative ways to have students approach the blank page and not be intimidated by it,” says Zihuatanejo.

But there is also a greater goal at all DYP workshops. Students can earn points toward the ultimate aim – a spot on the 2016 slam team that will participate in local and national youth poetry competitions. Team members will be selected at an area wide youth poetry slam to be held April 8.

The participants rack up points as well as valuable experience by attending the workshop; by witnessing the upcoming DaVerse Lounge shows Feb. 5 and April 1 at Life in Deep Ellum; by winning the airplane toss (Uncle Walt’s team was the victor); and by participating in the impromptu spoken word exercises.

The students were charged with reciting on-the-spot, 30-second monologues centered on one of three topics: the best TV show currently, the worst person ever, or the worst jellybean flavor. Then it was researching and reciting an Emily Dickinson poem. Helpful critiques on vocal inflections, stage presence, pacing and posture from Zihuatanejo, Oberly and Browne followed each impromptu spoken word performance.

“These workshops not only help them write and express themselves, but literally opens their eyes to new people and experiences,” says Browne, who has taught creative writing for Big Thought through DaVerse Lounge and Creative Solutions. Browne and Oberly spearheaded Dallas ISD’s first ever Spoken Word Poetry class for credit.

For the students at the workshop, the experience was enriching and also reassuring, enlightening.

“It’s been really helpful for me because I’ve always listened to spoken word poetry but was afraid to try it,” says Mikalyn Flowers, 17, a Dallas-based student at A+ Academy. “I love writing so much. It felt so natural discussing poems. It really helps me express myself a lot.”

Aubrey Smith, a 17-year-old student at Cedar Hill Collegiate High School who lives in Oak Cliff, concurs. “I really like spoken word,” she says. “I watched it but never thought I was good at it. The feeling of reading my stuff out loud…I like it better when I read it out loud. I find that I can really express myself out loud. I used to be really critical of my work but this helps me see and hear my strengths.”

Poetry, like paper airplanes, can fly as high as the imagination. The centrifugal force that propels poetry feeds on much more than just pen, paper and words. Zihuatanejo has the bigger picture in mind.

“Yes, at DYP we are trying to make them better poets,” he says, “but in turn we are trying to make them better thinkers, readers, and speakers, all skills that go into making our students at Dallas Youth Poets not only better writers, but also better students and people.”

We thank our Creative Solutions donors for their generous support – Texas Bar Foundation; DCJD Juror’s Fund/Youth Services Advisory Board; David Nathan Meyerson Foundation; Dallas County Juvenile Department; Grant Thornton, LLP; Katherine Carmody Trust, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee; M.R. & Evelyn Hudson Foundation; W.P. & Bulah Luse Foundation, Bank of America, N.A.; Fossil Group Employee Engagement Fund; The Junior League of Dallas; Elizabeth Toon Charities; Turning Point Foundation; National Endowment for the Arts; and Texas Commission on the Arts – Arts Respond. We also thank TACA for their generous support of DaVerse Lounge.