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The Poetry of a New Generation

If you're visiting the San Francisco Bay area and you're hungry for something unusual to do on a Saturday night, let us suggest a taste of poetry. Our tour guide is Youth Radio's Jacinda Abcarian.

The Poetry of a New Generation
by Jacinda Abcarian

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poet I am not quite a Generation X-er, and I'm definitely not a teenybopper anymore. I'm part of the hip-hop generation. I'm 24 years old and most Saturday nights I go to poetry readings. If you're visiting from out of town, you can go too. They're cheap -- about five bucks -- and they're not just any old sip tea, eat biscotti poetry readings.

Whittle: "Move Mountains! Mountains get out of my way! And they moved."


This is the poetry of my generation. That was Sonia Whittle, a sassy twenty-six-year-old from New York City, with her funky mix of gospel and spoken word. The poem's about a welfare mother who puts all her faith in Jesus and gets nothing in return. Tonight's setting: Caribbean Spice, a cleared out, dimly lit restaurant stuffed with hundreds of folding chairs. But next week's event might be in a dingy warehouse with a makeshift stage and a totally different crowd. Like the night a local poet Big Poppa E mimicked his girlfriend in front of hundreds of people.

Big Poppa E: "I don't need your goddamn poetry, boy! I need a man! A man who doesn't hide behind his Barnes & Noble journal and his word processor. I need a man. You going to be that man? You going to be my man, or is momma going to have to go shopping?" [Cheers]

It was funny to hear a man's perspective on male bashing. And there's plenty of it at these events. Listen up, female tourists, that's the best part. I remember my first open mic event. This slight, framed girl came to the microphone, eyes closed. I thought, "She must be so nervous, she can't even look into the audience."

But as soon as she opened her eyes, she started going off on her man who had called her the B-word. Her poem made me shout in agreement, laugh, and think. It inspired two or three poems of my own. But I'm one of those regulars who never gets up on stage. I'm too shy. I don't get near the sign-in list where anybody -- local or out-of-towner -- can write their name and wait their turn to pour their heart out in front of everyone.

Wayans: "A beer. It started with a beer. In a bar. I bought for you, you bought for me. I picked you up. Had I ever been so bold? To ask, to say yes, to make eye contact, to hold an offers gazers eye, so lonely..."

Nineteen-year-old Ariana Wayans was one of those brave souls. Her poem led us through a wild night with a truck driver.

poet Wayans: "...fixing the rear view mirror while you drove. Don't look back! Don't look back! The jokes, and the infinite maybes, with infinite 'what ifs' and finite solutions and consequences. Weren't we supposed to be adults? And whatever happened to all those responsibilities? Like jobs and families and cats and parakeets and soccer games and nosy aunts and boyfriends and wives and something called Sunday dinner?"

These nights are intimate. The crowd is welcoming, like family. Anyone would be comfortable here -- gay, straight, white, black, hippie chicks and conservative suits -- it doesn't matter. And sometimes, the crowd becomes a part of the performance.

Audience: "One day, it will all make sense. One day, it will all make sense. One day..."

Okay, you might think we're a bunch of post-beatnik artsy types, but we're not. We're just regular folks. We go to college, keep day jobs. And if you're visiting the Bay Area and want a window into our community, come to one of these poetry evenings. You might even find out what's going on around town, like political protests, new legislation and of course, where the next spoken word event will be on Saturday night.

In Berkeley, I'm Jacinda Abcarian for The Savvy Traveler.

Poet: "...because it is the truth that comes through the ancestors that makes me move and groove. So as you see me animate myself like a cartoon, know I am the color of maroon. And realize that this may be called freestyle, but meanwhile I will invoke a child to do the same. And rearrange and exchange what he's been put into the game. The matrix of my sleeve was always what Ripley could not believe. So never be deceived. On that note, I've got to leave."


Savvy Resources for Poetry Slams:


Additional Information:

Jacinda Abcarian produces a monthly talk show for Youth Radio. She's a student at Laney College in Oakland, California.

Youth Radio is an award-winning nonprofit journalism training program based in Berkeley, California. Youth Radio has trained more than 1,650 teenagers in broadcast journalism, production, engineering, and media advocacy since 1992. Youth Radio can regularly be heard nationally on National Public Radio, Public Radio International, Latino USA and Pacifica National Networks. It can be heard locally in the San Francisco Bay Area on KQED-FM, KCBS-AM, and KZQZ-FM (Z95.7). A training program is aired each Friday on KPFB-FM in Berkeley.

To contact Youth Radio, call 510-841-5123. Youth Radio's Web site is www.youthradio.org.

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