Using their words


POSTED: Monday, August 31, 2009

“;Reflection ... death ray ... Cinderella ... vanity ... dentist ... interrogation room ... Neptune ... Jupiter ... dope ... Michael Jackson ... architect ... Snow White ... disco ball ...”;

Poetry workshop instructor Dar'ron Cambra reads off a list from the day's “;word bank”; suggested by his teenage students at the weekly Youth Speaks Hawaii workshop held downtown. They are words and concepts for the students to either use or be inspired by in a writing exercise that takes the familiar fairy tale phrase “;mirror, mirror, on the wall”; as the start-off point.

For the next 10 minutes, fueled by a shared bag of candy and jars of furikake party mix and caramel popcorn, the students attempt to let the words flow from their thoughts to their pens on paper.

Five of the students are relatively old hands at this. They are part of the Hawaii poetry slam team that received national exposure on HBO in 2008 (see end note) and that won the '09 Brave New Voices contest in Chicago for an unprecedented second year in a row.

The other students, who are newer to the class, might never attain the level of spoken-word assuredness as the team members, but that's not the point of these workshops.

As Cambra mentions before the start of the writing exercise, “;There are three basic rules to writing when you come to these workshops: One, the standard is yourself. Two, there are no wrong answers—we all play in this gray area and are given so much space doing free-verse poetry. And three, we all participate. Be in the moment and let whatever distractions that are around motivate you while writing.”;

During that afternoon in the performance space of the ARTS at Marks Garage, everyone is vocally supportive of each other's work. Every clever and well-turned phrase from the poems read aloud after the exercise is met with an enthusiastic response from the students.

In upcoming weeks, and with each passing workshop, more complex exercises will be introduced, and for those new students who want to try their hand at spoken word later, people like Cambra and workshop and team director Lyz Soto will be there to offer one-on-one mentoring.





        Free workshops:

» 4:30 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays at the ARTS at Marks Garage, 1159 Nuuanu Ave.


» 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursdays at the Black Cat Hair Studio, 22 Oneawa St., Unit F, in Kailua


» For more information, call 306-7197 or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).




FOLLOWING THE lead of the Department of Education school calendar, Youth Speaks Hawaii runs weekly student workshops in town and on the Windward side. The nonprofit has also held workshop programs at Kalani and Farrington high schools, the University of Hawaii Lab School, the Hakipu'u Learning Center High School and the Halau Kumana Charter School. Youth Speaks also coordinates two interscholastic poetry slams a year, the next coming up in November at the Farrington auditorium.

Soto said it is the group's intention to keep the workshops free for students despite the drop in grant funding.

“;The State Foundation on Culture and the Arts was a big supporter in the past,”; she said. The foundation has dropped funding of the program due to its budget cutbacks.

“;We're going now for smaller grants, like from the Hawaii People's Fund, which has been very supportive,”; Soto said. “;It's a critical year for us because, with the help of funding, we're trying to professionalize and grow as a nonprofit.”;

The result of having a nationally recognized group of young poets come out of the workshops certainly helps “;sell”; the importance of Youth Speaks Hawaii. “;It's certainly helped to have a national profile,”; Soto said. “;Because of that, there are more national-caliber poets coming here to help us, which shows the kids here the possibilities in their writing.”;

“;Since my very first workshop, I've been able to track my growth through the work that I do,”; said fourth-year team member Alaka'i Kotrys.

“;The workshops give us an opportunity to learn from both our mentors and peers,”; said Kamehameha graduate Jamaica Osorio, who, at 19, will be leaving the youth team to attend Stanford University this fall. (In May, Osorio performed at the White House for President Barack Obama and his wife as a representative of the nationwide Youth Speaks programs and Brave New Voices.)

“;Students who come to the workshops can see how high other people's standards are, and it makes you want to up your own as well,”; said team member Jocelyn Ng, a Kalani graduate attending Kapiolani Community College.

“;Writing in these workshops are a way to push yourself and to think more clearly,”; said Kalani student Jill Fukumoto, who, with Farrington student Harrison Ines, are the newest members of the championship team who went to Chicago. “;It's also good to see how well the rest of the team and the other poets do. Writing is definitely a stress reliever.”;

Ines added, “;I've become more socially confident because of the workshops, and I'm open to new ways to expressing myself than just saying it.”;

Tomorrow's home video release of the HBO miniseries ”;Russell Simmons Presents Brave New Voices”; will be a two-disc set, featuring 10 team performances (including the winning Hawaii group) and events leading up to last year's contest in Washington, D.C.