It’s easy to form a factory-made explanation of what Louder Than A Bomb is: a youth poetry slam where young men and women come from all reaches of Chicago to compete against one another while championing the spoken and written word and, most importantly, making connections and creating relationships. It starts February 19th, by the way.
Not so bad, a little wordy, but it does the job.
There’s a lot that can easily go unsaid about what a poetry slam is and isn’t though, about what it can and can’t do. This is something festival director Robb Q. Telfer addresses in his recent TimeOut Chicago article.
It’s a good article. Go read it. Here’s a couple things Robbie said that resonate with me.
“From the start, it’s vital that we acknowledge that any slam poetry competition is at best a fun game, at worst a farce…”
“… Slam becomes a farce if a poet ever takes the competition too seriously, so we try to be straight with youth about this from the beginning.”
Robbie’s point here is much larger in the piece itself, so please, go read it, but this notion of competition resonates in my brain. As a kid, which wasn’t long ago, I was bad at everything. Literally. Everything. Sports, I was awful. Academics, I couldn’t handle it. Concepts like Louder Than A Bomb scare me because they take something I love, words, and add a competitive aspect to it. This is something that, if done wrong, would have had a lot of potential to hurt me as a teenager; something that would have made me want to just hide in my bedroom and inside of myself even more than usual. LTAB doesn’t do it wrong though, they do it right. Thankfully, Robbie is very straight about how unimportant the competitive aspect of LTAB is. This makes me very happy.
Competition is something that seeps into readings on occasion, and I loath it. Not entirely, mind you. As an artist I think competition helps improve oneself. I want to be able to look at a peer, say to myself, wow, that story is great, and then go out determined to write something better. And, if I’m successful, I would hope that other writer does the same. I want to be better in the hopes that it makes my peers better too. Negative competition doesn’t only happen in slams though, this can happen in readings where there isn’t even a technical competitive aspect to it. Sometimes people like to whip out their (metaphorical) dicks and see whose is bigger. They want to be top dog at whatever bar, pub, coffee shop – whatever – they read at every month.
All I can say to that is that I don’t want to win, or be top dog, or whatever it is I might accomplish by having a bigger literary dick. I don’t want the competitive aspect to outweigh my love for the community.
But as long as slams and readings stay, as Robbie puts it, a fun game, then I’d say everything’s kosher.
Moving back to the article itself, Robbie isn’t afraid to speak the things the rest of us will only allow ourselves to think. Calling out Chicago for the inequalities we’re afraid to speak about, for whatever reason, “Exploitation in Chicago is inescapable, and I often find myself telling our youth of color that their lives are just going to be harder than others’, and though we can help, in the end they need to teach themselves the things they’ll need to know to survive.”
To put it simply, because I’m one of those people who feels completely inadequate when it comes to speaking about the trials and tribulations of youth in Chicago, Louder Than A Bomb is much more than a competition. Simple as that. Please please please go read Robbie’s article.
Apologies to the reader for quoting the article. I know they don’t like that.