Local teens compete for slam honors

The 12 members of the D.C. Youth Poetry Slam Team competed in the Grand Slam Finals on Saturday night for three coveted spots in an international poetry competition. (WTOP/Thomas Warren)

Thomas Warren, wtop.com

Editor’s note: Some of the audio in this story may contain explicit language.

WASHINGTON – Twelve young spoken word artists put their talents on full display Saturday night in a poetry slam competition that included a chance to join this year’s D.C. Youth Poetry Slam Team.

The bright, fierce poets competed at the Gala Hispanic Theater on 14th Street and was the third round of the selection process; the poets previously completed interviews and auditions.

Gaithersburg resident Thomas Hill took third place. While he’s only been performing for six months, he says he’s now more at ease on stage.

“I’m only comfortable because I have a whole team to back me up,” says Hill, whose stage name is “Vocab.”

The poets were scored on a 10-point scale for creativity, originality, performance and overall poem. Each poet performed two pieces in a three minute time limit.

Amina Iro, a junior at Roosevelt High School, dedicated one of her poems to the victims of the Newtown elementary school mass shooting.

“Twenty-six lives stolen, most of age too young to understand the letters by which they are listed in age,” she said in part of her poem. Iro placed second in the competition.

The D.C. Youth Slam Team is part of the Split This Rock youth program. The organization holds weekly workshops and monthly youth open mic slams at the Busboys and Poets location on 5th Street and K Street in Northwest D.C.

Poet McKenzie Hahn, 17, suffers from five chronic pain diseases. Poetry has become an outlet for her in recent years.

“I’m really glad that I found it because I don’t know where I would be right now if I didn’t have that,” says Hanh, who goes by “Kenny.”

Hahn says she’s been performing spoken word poetry for two years and, along with classmate Asha Gardner, created the Woodrow Wilson High Slam Team one year ago.

Gardner, 17, had a special night of her own. She placed first in the competition, receiving the most perfect scores from the judges.

“I love poetry. It’s all I do,” Gardner says.

The competition is real, but for the competitors, it’s also friendly.

“Even though we compete against each other all the time, we crack jokes, poke at each other and try to mess each other up,” Gardner says. “At the end of the day it’s all love.”

The top three from the slam finals also have a chance to join the 12-poet team which will represent Split This Rock and the District at the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival this summer in Chicago.

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