April 1, 2014

Louder Than a Bomb


Maggie: April is National Poetry Month, which started as a way to increase awareness and appreciation for poetry in the U.S. But for a group of students taking part in a competition in Chicago, an area hit hard by gang violence, poetry can mean a lot more than just a bunch of flowery words.

Girl: Mama, why didn’t you tell me Band-Aids couldn’t cover every wound, that my screams wouldn’t always reach your ears, that my baby teeth would be knocked out by rejection?

Maggie: Chicago’s youth poetry competition is called Louder Than a Bomb.

Girl: You beautiful doll, you great big beautiful doll.

Maggie: Now in its fourteenth year, it is the largest in the country with 1,000 students from 100 schools across the city and suburbs sharing the spotlight and their unique stories.

Girl: This is my first poem and it is dedicated to you young poets, like jasmine, like flowers struggling to grow.

Maggie: The poetry slam runs for a month in March, and the young poets are judged Olympic-style.

Announcer: 9.8!

Maggie: A good score lets you move on to the next round. But there is a saying here: ‘It’s not the points, it’s the poets’.

Girl: So he picked up daddy’s gun.

Boy: No more running scared with sin in his hand.

Maggie: The team from Brooks College Prep Academy was inspired by the dangers involved in dodging fate and bullets in the Chicago South Side neighborhood.

Poetry team: It’s confusing how a city with so much history is now history for the boys playing with guns.

Maggie: Team member Seanba Anderson says the poem is a plea for action.

Seanba Anderson: The audience we are trying to reach is Chicago itself. We’re trying to tell them that the streets are dangerous and something needs to be changed.

Maggie: Chicago’s inner city is plagued by gang warfare and gun violence. And it is hitting the young people hard.

Kevin Coval is a former teacher and the festival’s founder.

Kevin Coval: On a Thursday I’d see a kid in my class on the West Side and then on Monday I’d see him locked up. And we wanted to respond in that moment of fear with a radically different cultural space that was hopeful and that’s more powerful than weaponry.

Maggie: Kevin says he has had more than one participant who was shot, even killed.

Kevin: Many over the course of 14 years.

Maggie: So the stage is an escape, where the sound of finger snaps lend support.

Kevin: I think the impact for young people is that they feel that they’re heard.

Announcer: Brooks College Prep!

Maggie: The power of having something to say and having others hear you say it.

To learn more about Chicago’s youth poetry competition, just head on over to


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