They came, they spoke -- and they won! Twice over, in fact.
Not only did Youth Speaks Hawaii win the 11th Annual International Youth Poetry Slam Festival held last month in Washington, D.C., the teenage crew also is among a select few filmed by HBO for a documentary series to air in January and February.
With assists from group director Lyz Soto and mentors Dar'ron Cambra and Travis "TravisT" Thompson, the crew -- 16-year-olds Alaka'i Kotrys and Ittai Wong, 18-year-olds Jamaica Osorio and Jocelyn Ng, and 19-year-old Will Giles -- dazzled the competition with a word flow that expressed what it means to grow up in the unique cultural mix that is Hawaii.
A multi-ethnic contest like this shows "a remarkable reflection of the changing demographics of our country," said national Youth Speaks founder and executive director James Kass.
HBO crews traveled to Honolulu, San Francisco, New York City, Miami, Albuquerque, Philadelphia and D.C. earlier this year to shoot each city's grand slam finals -- regional contests held to choose the poets sent to the national finals.
The cable network will air eight half-hour programs on the city contests, ending with a 90-minute special on the D.C. finale -- aka Brave New Voices 2008.
The question coming out of the city finals was whether five solo poets could find a common chemistry for duo and team performances.
"To be honest," said Soto, "and I know the kids will agree with this, they stressed out more over the Hawaii grand slam final. It was to the point of driving them neurotic."
"Luckily, we knew most of each other's work, since we worked together in past Brave New Voices competitions," added team member Wong. "So since we already liked each other, as a team, it was no problem when we wrote new poems together for the D.C. contest. It made for better dope stuff."
The poetry of Youth Speaks Hawaii is best appreciated in performance, but here is a sample of the group's written words. For a video of Jamaica Osorio and Jocelyn Ng performing "Other," visit www.starbulletin.com.
The first written Hawaiian poetry
songs and dance were the medium in which we decoded their denotation
connecting connotation through Kaona
speaking of flowers but meaning children
Ua maika'i ke kalo i ka oha
The branch is a reflection of the taro root
We are a reflection of our genesis
The most intricate euphemisms that ever existed
You had to understand the history and culture to decrypt this language
Had to dig deeper than dictionaries
beneath esophagus and vocal cords
to grasp the root of the words our people would chant