Teen poets share their voices in a new HBO show


POSTED: Sunday, April 05, 2009

A special group of teenagers from the 808 state get to shine on national television, starting tonight on HBO.





        'Russell Simmons Presents Brave New Voices'

Seven-part series premieres at 8 p.m. today on HBO




Last July, representatives of Youth Speaks Hawaii won the 11th Annual International Youth Poetry Slam Festival in Washington, D.C. The hard work that went into winning that competition, as well as the journeys made by other national teams, was captured on video by the team behind the cable channel's “;Def Poetry Jam.”; The resulting “;Russell Simmons Presents Brave New Voices”; premieres tonight, and for a participating poet and a producer, it's a win-win situation.

The first three episodes introduce teams that the audience will follow right up to the finals. The young poets hail from New York; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; San Francisco; Philadelphia; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Santa Fe, N.M.; and Honolulu.

Specific team poets are also featured - Hawaii's Jamaica Osorio and Ittai Wong get a fair share of face time. Osorio, speaking by phone from Palo Alto, Calif., where she's in her first year at Stanford University, has already seen the first five shows of the series and thinks it does a good job of showing both the creative process and the competition.

In particular, she notes a segment in the fourth episode that shows the team performing a piece called “;Kaona,”; a poem about the beauty of the Hawaiian language expressed by Osorio, Wong and teammates Alaka'i Kotrys and William Giles. The performance won over the packed D.C. house during the finals.

While the documentary shows some of the high drama of the journey to Brave New Voices 2008 - making for riveting television - Osorio said the team decided to keep the occasional raw emotional outburst on the low-down and away from the cameras.

“;We wanted to show that we're not just part of the U.S., but that we're more our own culture. Our performances in the semifinals and finals speak for themselves. And I wanted to say that although the focus just happened to be on me and Ittai, Will, Jocelyn (Ng) and Alaka'i are amazing poets in their own right.

“;At least I am proud of the fact that we can at least educate the continental U.S. about us.”;

Osorio will be home to participate in Saturday's Youth Speaks Hawaii grand-slam finals and, hopefully, rejoin most of her teammates for Brave New Voices 2009 in Chicago in July.




        HBO: Brave New Voices



Stan Lathan, executive producer of the HBO series, and his partner, hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons, won a Peabody Award for “;Def Poetry Jam”; in 2002, and later a Tony Award when they took the show to Broadway.

His introduction to the National Youth Speaks competition came when he placed some of its poets on his TV show a couple of years ago, then attended the San Francisco finals. The audience of 3,000 filled the San Francisco Opera House, Lathan said from his L.A. office. “;It was one of the most exciting events I've ever been to. The audience involvement and enthusiasm was overwhelming, and the work itself was wonderful.”;

From there, “;Def Poetry Jam”; came to include the voices of Youth Speaks from around the country. “;It's all about these different voices screamin' to be heard and how diverse and how really competitive everyone is as the teams try to pick the best of the best of each region.”;

Lathan said the Hawaii team “;really embodied what this whole movement is all about. The teenagers were motivated and had a gift and a mission to be heard. Plus, they were highly respected by the other teams. The Hawaii team had an aura about them, and it was very apparent at the festival.”;