brave new voices

Here in America
In every single state,
They have a set of standards for every subject
A collection of lessons that the teacher’s required to teach by the end of the term.
But the greatest lessons you will ever teach us will not come from your syllabus
The greatest lessons you will ever teach us
You will not even remember.
You never told us what we weren’t allowed to say
We just learned how to hold our tongues

Now somewhere in America
There is a child holding a copy of Catcher in the Rye
And there is a child holding a gun
But only one of these things have been banned by their State Government
And it’s not the one that can rip through flesh
It’s the one that says ‘fuck you’ on more pages than one
Because we must control what the people say -
How they think
And if they wanna become the overseer of their ownselves
Then we’ll show them a real one.

And somewhere in America
There is a child sitting at his mother’s computer
Reading the homepage of the KKK’s website
That’s open to the pulic
But that child will have never read to kill a mockingbird
Because his school has banned it for its use of the N word.

Maya Angelou is prohibited
Because we’re not allowed to talk about rape in school
We were taught that just because something happens
Doesn’t mean you are to talk about it

They build us brand new shopping malls
So that we’ll forget where we’re really standing:
On the bones of the hispanics
On the bones of the slaves
On the bones of the native americans
On the bones of those who fought just to speak

Transcontintental Railroad to Japanese internment camps;
There are things missing from our history books.
But we were taught that it is better to be silent
than to make them uncomfortable

Somewhere in America
Private schoolgirls search for hours through boutiques
Trying to find the prom dress of their dreams
While kids on the South Side spend hours searching through the lost and found
Cos winters coming soon and that’s the only jacket they have

Kids are late to class for working the midnight shift,
They give awards for best attendance
But not for keeping your family off the streets.

These kids will call your music ghetto
They will tell you you don’t talk right
Then they’ll get in the backseat of a car
With all their friends
Singing about how they’re “bout that life’ and ‘we can’t stop’

Somewhere in America
Schools are promoting self confidence
While they whip out their scales
And shout out your body fat percentage in class
Where the heftier girls are hiding away
And the slim fit beauties can’t help but giggle with pride

The preppy kids go thrift shopping cos they think it sounds real fun
But we go cos that’s all we got money for
Cos mama works for the city
Mama only gets paid once a month

Somewhere in America
A girl’s getting felt up by a grown man on the subway,
She’s still in her school uniform
And that’s part of the appeal,
It’s hard to run in knee socks and Mary Janes
And all her male teachers know it too

Coaches cover up star players
Raping freshmen after the dance,
Women are killed for rejecting dates.
But god forbid I bring my girlfriend to prom?
A girl is blackout drunk at the after party
Take a picture before her wounds wake her
How many pixels is your sanity worth?
What’s a 4.0 to a cold jury?

What’d you learn in class today?
Don’t walk fast
Don’t speak loud
Keep your hands to yourself
Keep your head down
Keep your eyes on your own paper
If you don’t know the answer
Fill in C

Always wear earbuds when you ride the bus alone
If you feel like someones following you
Pretend you’re on the phone
A teacher never fails
Only you do
In every state in America
The greatest lessons
Are the ones you don’t rememeber learning

—  Somewhere in America - Brave New Voices (x)

In my kindergarten art class,
sunlight dripped through fingerpaint-covered windows.
I learnt the primaries: red, blue, yellow. I could make the whole rainbow out of three colours.

I was older when I started telling myself that I only looked at the female anatomical models for reference. I had so much experience dressing quickly and keeping my eyes on the ground in the locker room, but this girl made me understand why they say
“pretty as a painting”.

You can’t touch museum art.

We have the same lotion. It smells better on her, it makes me think of cookies and old Paris cafés where the great painters had lunch. The colour palette I bring from home is so dark, but she makes me lean towards romantiscism.
I can’t draw a straight line anymore but it’s okay; her hair is naturally curly.

A boy called her weird yesterday, and I wanted to tell her that I have spent hours practicing shading to recreate the light in her eyes, but that would make it obvious I’d been staring.

You’re not supposed to look at your friends like that.

Our teacher says  the colourmaker Diesbach tried to make a perfect red and created ultramarine. In a time when ultramarine paint was worth more than gold he added animal blood to his flask and out burst blue, worth more than gold! I wanted vermilion like Romeo, ruby as sunset, flash lipstick, scarlet forget-me-not kisses, I would give blood to my brush for her to blush at me in that shade I would take cobalt as a new sky, azure as cornflower, schoolgirl skirt navy hiding held hands or even yellow sunflower petals. Dutch painters whispering “she loves me… she loves me… she loves me…" 

Our teacher didn’t tell us that the creation of prussian blue led to the isolation of cyanide. I can’t breathe without turning into poison, it’s apple seeds and seeping through junior-high gym floorboards when you watch your best friend dance with boys who will never be you!
I always liked friendship bracelets more than promise rings. My middle-school diaries are filled with girls, like a pick-pocket sketching the Hope Diamond. I’d be lining my coat with stolen glances. I don’t have a partner in crime to keep me warm.

I know the signs. The teacher’s assistant, a nice junior who comes to school with cherry eyes every time her lab partner gets a new boyfriend. Throw over your men! My history professor and her roommate of 15 years.

I say someone in another time will remember us. 

I want to be five years old mixing all the colours until i get the drark brown of her Monet shoulder freckles, and you give a Valentine to everyone in class.


“Art Class”, by Rhiannon McGavin

The above was my attempt to transcribe this video of thegeekyblonde performing her poem at at Brave New Voices. It’s stellar, it gives me chills every time. 

(She’s getting choked up during the whole video so it was bit of a challenge to transcribe it. If you want to offer corrections or fill in the things I missed, please do.)

Somewhere in America, 
there is a child holding a copy of Catcher in the Rye, 
and a child holding a gun. 
But only one of these things has been banned by their state government,
and it’s not the one that can rip through flesh.
It’s the one that says ‘FUCK YOU’ on more pages than one.
—   BNV14 Finals - Los Angeles “Somewhere in America”

Why Poetry Is The Best Medium For Kids Who Want To Change The World

Diggs started slamming at Berkeley High School in California after watching the documentary “Slam Nation” with his friends. We just got really inspired,” he told HuffPost on Saturday night, the day after his departure from “Hamilton.” “So we got some friends together and tried to recreate that. We had a teacher donate a classroom after school and we just started doing it.

BNV was a much smaller festival when Diggs was a kid, but the premise behind the event, which showcases the spoken word performances of students over the course of six days, is still the same: It was an opportunity for us ― for kids who are often ignored and whose words are not valued ― to say whatever we wanted,” Diggs said. “In the best way possible. And have those words honored.

Both [Danez] Smith and Diggs are quick to praise poetry as an effective medium for kids whose voices need to be heard.What writing a poem really does ― and what figuring how to perform effectively really does ― is forces people to listen to you,” Diggs said. “It frames your thoughts in such a way that grabs people’s attentions and forces them to hear the things that you’re actually saying.

These are techniques that you can use forever,” he added. “Learning how to get a point across is pretty useful in any situation.

Many of the BNV performances are available on YouTube, a platform Diggs suggests that interested kids use to find their way into the world of slam poetry. Listen to everything and just start doing it,” he said.

Typically, my advice to young artists is not to wait for someone to allow you to do the thing,” Diggs concluded. “Just do the thing and they’ll catch up.

Ode To Norma Jean

I was always told that she was a hollowed beauty
Wrapped in a white dress
Red lipstick stains on her extra long cigarette
Her lace panties hugging her coke bottle waist
Like the children who never called her mother

These simplistic posters were plastered on best friends walls
Something pretty to look at before they went to sleep
To dream of romantic evenings in smoky clubs
Smiling at slick haired men dressed in sly smiles and pork pie hats

These photos of Marilyn Monroe
Made them feel like they had someone to look up to
Finally an icon who looked more appealing
Than the people in their textbooks

As she lay naked on Hugh Hefner’s dirty sheets
Died blond hair
Powdered cheeks
That alliteration of a name imprinted on business-men’s pleats

It’s so easy to agree with the idea of such a woman
But why do we waste our idealistic adjectives
And raving tongues
As names like Bella Abzug and Billy Jean King slip through our palms

Ignoring the stories of women who never stripped for success
Whose faces aren’t printed on the clothing in middle school hallways
Whose wearers believe that the person they idolize
will boost their amateur sex appeal

Revolutions are not made between supple breasts
They grow in the voices of  women
who test the limits of their allowances
Instead of allowing society to limit them of their voice

Women whose rough skin and crooked smiles
were still photographed because their actions
deserved to be recorded regardless of their hunched poise
Beautiful for their working hands
Their raised fists

And while Marilyn drowns in the photos of herself
Society rejects her wrong doings
and rewrites the story of a country bumpkin who took Rosie’s seat
A woman who made the men hard and the women harder

And when she left
We held onto her outlived name
like parched dogs licking our empty water bowls
Begging for just one more ounce of consideration

A person’s life can never be copyrighted
As soon as that tombstone acts as their headboard
We rewrite the truth to create idols for our children
Simply erase the troubles the problems the defects
And write a new chapter of beautiful white toothy smiles

Convince ourselves that she made us stronger
and name her a revolutionary
That she lived a broken life and name her innocent
That she scratched sweet nothings onto paper and name her a poet
And forget the name her mother gave her

Norma Jean Baker you are NOT forgotten for your offenses
We look back to the fifties and beam at these sugary pin-ups
Yet we stare at the women on today’s playboys and label them trash
But if they swallowed their lives maybe we’d label them heroes
And shun the men who call to them like meat

Who are these hollowed beauties of whom we so fondly speak?
Every man’s dream but their own worst nightmare
Disregarding the pop portrait she was so pleased to pose for

The flash of the camera did not break her
She broke herself
And while they bow down to this face of naked photos
They dream to be hollowed beauties

But when they awake from this fantasy of sexy Sunday nights
She will only be something pretty to look at
before they go to sleep.

A boy called her weird yesterday, and I wanted to tell her that I have spent hours practicing shading to recreate the light in her eyes but I’d make it obvious I’d been staring… You’re not supposed to look at your friends like that!
—  Rhiannon McGavin, “Art Class”

2016 - Brave New Voices - Grand Slam Finals: Daveed Diggs

600 young people from across the world take center stage at the 19th Annual Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival for a week of workshops, poetry slam, performances, and civic engagement from July 12 – 16, 2016 in Washington, D.C. This year’s festival theme takes it’s inspiration from Langston Hughes’ poem “I, Too” redefining what it means to be American in the 21st Century. Powered by Youth Speaks.

When I say “shoot,” you say, “shoot
Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot

Got a world wonderin’ when it’s all gonna burn
Warnings are warm as the block is getting hot as a perm
Get it straight
My n*ggas ain’t waitin’ for turns
It’s time to take it
Our place in the line ain’t a concern

We trace our lines to the ‘80’s where they threw out the razors
Cuttin’ the white on the table was for ballers and players
Our parents, still in the hustle, burnt the rock into vapors
So hard demeanors when '80’s babies gas on you haters

An era defined by cracks and whether to slip into 'em
We transfit it to the beat, then we eat the beats like communion
Embody these wafers, waverin’
Wave at 'em with the rillo and stay so deep in the cup
We drink blood and we call it moscato
What up, gangsta

You really wanna bang yo set?
When we rep gangs chained to tracks and swing raps like mallets?
Its arm and hammers built the ground for which these crews fight
And don’t none of us own shit, so it’s nothin’ to lose, right?

You seein’ this mobbin’ on your television
You can close your eyes, but you gonna have to listen
Mouthpiece is a gun; the speech is the ammunition
Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot

The cameras are rollin’ and the lights flash
The footage is golden when the nights clash
Capture it quick; we livin’ the life fast
Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot

Yeah, real shit, n*gga
Out here fingerin’ the kill switch
The bills kill to n*gga D.O.A.
So when the repo came and sent me Cobain

I’ve made a bed of bones of all the rappers I admire
So that even when I’m sleeping, I can still find inspiration in their fall
Cause everybody fall off
I’m at the fiscal cliff base-jumpin’ with a sawed off
Shoot all these fake fly suckas now; all’s lost anyway
So we can parlay with this molotov cocktail mixologist

Rock sales and bottom bitches
Cock fights and n*gga riches
Rock ice and tunnel vision
Eyes front; focus forward

Feed the phenom your attention
The game can change
I will father invention
Me and Ms. Necessity got a thang goin’ on
I keep fuckin’ that chick to your new style is born

You seein’ this mobbin’ on your television
You can close your eyes, but you gonna have to listen
Mouthpiece is a gun; the speech is the ammunition
Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot

What up
The footage is golden and the lights flash
The cameras are rolling and the nights clash
Capture it quick; we livin’ the life fast
Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot

And every Sunday morning we play dominoes with death
Counting spots upon the table
Slamming bones with baited breath
Knowin’ there’s not enough to build a house
The n*gga to your left has the fo-fo
Waitin’ for dem snake eyes to surface

Here surf sex, there’s sleep aid to the infinite insomnia
A whole generation awake, immune to marijuana
Cause that’s baseline and it’s nice, but the angles are never right
And we spangle the red and white
With the stars of the blues we write

I’ve been howlin’ wolf and sheepish grinning
Look beneath the beating, bleeding, seething city
See, we all been G'ing since we were teethin’
And while searching for the meanin’
Misdemeanors of the fleeing folk
Runnin’ while holdin’ still
Cup of purple posture leanin’

And poets postulate posthumous
The who, what, where, and why
But the 'how’ escapes us all
Cause our souls are too old to cry
So we bangin’ the best we can
And we doin’ it lookin’ fly
And we celebrate independence
By shootin’ guns in the sky

You seein’ this mobbin’ on your television
You can close your eyes, but you gonna have to listen
Mouthpiece is a gun; the speech is the ammunition
Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot


never gets old. 

OCTOBER 14: Mary Lambert’s “Heart on My Sleeve” album is released (2014)

On this day in 2014, Mary Lambert’s Heart on My Sleeve album first hit shelves. The lesbian singer and songwriter’s debut album contained the hit “She Keeps Me Warm.”

The cover of Mary Lambert’s debut full-length album Heart on My Sleeve (x).

Mary Lambert first got her start in the world of slam poetry, representing Seattle, Washington – not far from her hometown of Everett, Washington – in the 2008 Brave New Voices International Poetry Competition. In 2012, she reached the mainstream’s radar by co-writing and providing vocals for the song “Same Love” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. As a lesbian, she was the only LGBT person to work on the track.

Adapting the success of her verse from “Same Love” into her own independent material, Mary wrote “She Keeps Me Warm,” which became the first single of her Heart on My Sleeve album in January of 2014. The album as a whole was released on October 14, 2014 to a positive reception. The songs “She Keeps Me Warm” and “Secrets” were highlights of the album, giving wlw everywhere new explicitly gay tunes to bop to. Mary is currently working on her second album, but until then, the lyric “I can’t think straight, I’m so gay” from “Secrets” will remain our mantra. 


‘Hamilton’ star Daveed Diggs: Slam poetry saved my life 

At 4 a.m. Saturday, Daveed Diggs left the party celebrating his last performance in the Broadway blockbuster “Hamilton,” threw some clothes in a bag, and jumped a train for Washington.

A little over 12 hours later, he was at the Kennedy Center, emceeing the Brave New Voices Grand Slam Finals. “It’s not hyperbole when I say, I need this so bad right now,” he announced to deafening cheers from the audience.

The poetry slam is an annual competition for teenagers run by Youth Speaks, a nonprofit organization focused on youth education and the oral art of spoken word, or poetry recitation. This year’s event was huge, drawing more than 500 teens from all over the world. But when Youth Speaks was founded, in 1996, it mostly touched kids living in the Bay Area, including one Oakland native named Daveed Diggs.

“I had to make this happen,” Diggs said in an interview before taking the stage. “They would have loved me to finish out the weekend at ‘Hamilton,’ but I wanted to do this.”

Dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, with a baseball cap taming his mass of curly hair, he spoke thoughtfully about his youth and his artistic path, frequently flashing his signature wide grin.

Diggs was a student at Berkeley High School just as Youth Speaks was planting its roots in the neighborhood. The group, Diggs said, made poetry and spoken word just another teen activity, as common as parties or football games.

“It was a part of what you did growing up,” he said. “It was woven in the fabric of the community. I don’t think I realized how special that was until I left. I didn’t know that it wasn’t part of what everyone did when they were teenagers, which was to go watch your friends spit poems.”

As a result, Diggs ended up with a group of friends who all write and perform. When the 34-year-old accepted a Tony Award this year for his dual roles as Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette in “Hamilton,” he gave a shout-out to Rafael Casal and Chinaka Hodge, two Youth Speaks veterans he has been close with since his youth. Both also had roles in the festival.

In high school, Diggs participated in poetry slams co-organized by Youth Speaks. The group’s founder and executive director, James Kass, still remembers the first time he saw Diggs perform.

“I remember the intelligent nature of his work,” Kass said. “On the stage, he was dynamic. The same energy you see in ‘Hamilton’ now, that was evident when he was a young person.”

Diggs used to write his poems 10 minutes before a show on a notecard scribbled with thoughts and arrows connecting ideas. It wasn’t until Youth Speaks that he learned how to get organized, he said, and think about structure and word choice.

“I was a very good performer, but not a great writer,” he said. “Then Youth Speaks came in, and I got to see the poets they were working with, and they started working with the poets at Berkeley High School. I became very aware that the way they were teaching writing was great.”

Shortly after, he started to write rap songs using the techniques he had learned, forming and joining multiple hip-hop groups that eventually led to his meeting “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda in Miranda’s freestyle group, Freestyle Love Supreme.

After graduating from Brown University in 2004, Diggs worked for Youth Speaks as a teacher, imparting the same lessons he had absorbed when he was a budding artist.

“I was really aware, even while it was happening, that the discovery of arts education in my life sort of saved my life,” Diggs said. “As a kid, you don’t have a ton of spaces where you are honored, where what you think is honored, and what you say is revered.”

The personal, political and intimate nature of spoken-word performance translated to his acting as well.

“Acting is about finding truth and finding the way to convey the truth,” he said. “These kids writing their own stories have such easy access to that. I do try to access what I learned from watching them when I’m acting. What are the ways to feel really honest? If it feels forced, it’s not going to work. It doesn’t matter if you wrote the words or not.”

Diggs hoped his presence at Brave New Voices would show the teens that they, too, could make a life from the world of poetry, hip-hop and performance.

“Maybe I can make them a little less stressed out about the future,” he said. “I was so stressed, man. When I was 17, I was so worried about what the hell was going to happen. Maybe it’ll take some of that stress away.”

Youth Speaks’s goal, Kass said, is to create a new generation of people who will define the culture of the future — just as Diggs is doing.

“Here’s a young person we’ve known who is now one of the hottest people in American theater,” Kass said. “Now he is speaking to an entire audience of people that could be him in 15 to 20 years.”

Diggs’s appearance at the festival wasn’t entirely selfless, however. He’s been in a “Hamilton” bubble for two years, and now he needs to recharge. For that, it made sense to return to where he came from, even if he was tired from pulling an all-nighter.

“The energy in the room is crazy,” he said, laughing. “It’s crazy. Every time I come to one of these things, I’m sweating and crying and laughing and screaming. It’s been a while since I was just in a room where kids were being brilliant and honest. I need this for myself. I really wanted to make sure I had the space to come here, and be inspired, and remember what this is like.”


Celebrating National Poetry Month with @mermaideleh

To see more photos of Rhiannon’s life plus videos of her performances, follow @mermaideleh on Instagram.

“#hellomynameis Rhiannon McGavin (@mermaideleh). I’m 18 years old and I live in Los Angeles.

In ninth grade, the Get Lit program came to my school. Students choose a classic poem, write a response and compete with their response in an annual poetry slam. My poem was ‘A Smile to Remember’ by Charles Bukowski — and my response was about how much I hated getting catcalled walking home from school. I scored straight 10s in the classic slam, so they recruited me to represent Los Angeles for Brave New Voices, an international spoken word competition for teenagers. Things definitely went crazy from there.

Growing up, my mom and I weren’t able to go on a lot of family vacations, but last year, I was asked to perform at the Women in the World Summit in New York. New York is where my mom grew up, and it’s her favorite city in America. I was able to take my mom there for a week because of my poetry.

Next year, I’m going to be an English major at UCLA with a minor in developmental psychology. This is my secret dream: I want to produce a children’s show or a children’s book series about Shakespeare and classical literature.” #NationalPoetryMonth


HI!!! this is me and my friend miriam representing team la during the brave new voices finals this year and it’s the best 3 minutes of my summer