Discovering the Relevance of Words
— KHARY JACKSON
I am writing this while at the annual Brave New Voices poetry festival, in Atlanta, GA. Several hundred young poets ages 13 to 19 are gathered, after months of dedicated practice, fundraising and team building, to connect and share their work with each other for four of the most exciting days of their lives. This festival is but a focal point, however, for the Movement.
All of us, while not possessing literal “superpowers,” are either blessed or cursed with Invisibility. No one would look at these young people walking down the street and assume that lyrical brilliance makes a habit of leaping from their mouths. There are young women who transform catcalls into galvanizing verse. There are young men who literally could be outlined in white chalk the day they return home from this festival. The uniformed officer that ends their life may have no idea that those young men had already graced a stage and delivered their own eulogies in advance.
Here, we pay witness. We pay homage. We speak with one hand fisted in the air and the other gripping the unseen hand of our ancestors. We shed tears for the first time for experiences we’d been silent about for years. If we’re lucky, we can save some of those newfound tears as a gift for our families. It is a challenge to take breakthroughs from a festival and continue building on them in our daily lives. It is a challenge we embrace, a venture during which we all lift each other up.
As a coach, I am of course invested in my students bringing their best selves to the stage. But they actually bring their best selves throughout this festival. And I know every other team shares that value. These young poets are all of our students, regardless of team or city. We have all been called by the muse of lyric, the undying force that drives our pain and joy through the mouth, through the microphone, through the speakers, through the air, through the listeners, through the listeners’ exhales as they exclaim “Yes, poet, go in. Stay there. Bring us with you. This alchemy is sustained through this space by our minds and bodies fully engaged in the moment. We lift your voice so that we may surrender to it.”
If you were here right now, you would hear the boisterous voices that could be hushed in a classroom. You would be amazed at the spirit riding the waves of those voices. You would not waste a moment before marvelling, and lifting them high.
Khary Jackson is a poet, playwright, dancer and musician. He is a Cave Canem Fellow, and thus has further reason to adore black people. He has written 12 plays, one of which (Water) was produced in 2009 at Ink and Pulp Theatre in Chicago. He has been a recipient of several grants, including the 2012 Cultural Community Partnership Grant, 2010 Artist Initiative Grant for Poetry from the Minnesota State Arts Board, and the 2009 VERVE Spoken Word Grant from Intermedia Arts. His first poetry book, Any Psalm You Want, was published with Write Bloody Publishing in the spring of 2013. He’s a little weird, but rest assured, there’s a method to the way he stares into your house.