Six local teen poets represented Madison this year at international youth slam poetry competition, Brave New Voices, as the city’s first ever team.

Celebrating it’s 20th anniversary, Brave New Voices is one of the largest international youth slam poetry competitions and festivals in the world. Typically lasting for four days in July, the festival consist of workshops, civic engagement, and a poetry slam.

Seventeen-year-old Blue Campbell, 16-year-olds Fade Horton and Ella Deitz, and 18-year-olds Luna Abresch, Alex Davis and Journey Henderson, made up the Madison team and went to San Francisco in July to compete against over 50 other slam poetry teams representing several cities from all over world including Milwaukee.

Though this is the first Madison specific team, this is not the first time Madison teens have participated in the competition geared towards teens ages 13 to 19. Since 2006 Wisconsin has been sending a team of Madison and Milwaukee youth poets to compete in the festival.

This year though, local Hip Hop organization, The JVN Project, pitched in to make two separate teams.

“What was happening was that maybe one or two youth from Madison would make it on the team and that was usually just due to how much more established the Milwaukee youth slam scene is,” said Zhalarina Sanders, founder of The JVN Project. “So that plus knowing Madison has so many young people wanting to go to Brave New Voices we pitched to change things up.”

Cities have to apply each year to have a team represented at the competition due to high demand, said Sanders, and many teams get denied.

“They have a selection process because so many cities want to go, so each year there are teams that receive a letter saying their team wasn’t accepted to compete but our first try was successful,” she said.

Teens competed in a smaller local slam called the Word Power series to make it onto the team.

Over 40 students slammed in the quarterfinal slams from October to December with 24 of the highest scoring poets moving on to a semifinal round in January. By March the top 13 went out on to compete in a city finals where six were chosen to represent the Madison Brave New Voices team.

In the past years students have had to travel to Milwaukee to compete in state finals.

“I really liked having the finals in the city,” said Deitz, who was a member of the Wisconsin Brave New Voices team twice before. “In previous years I’ve gone to the city finals in Milwaukee and this was just more familiar and I felt more comfortable performing despite being super nervous. I appreciated that a lot and it was in my own city so I felt more connected to it.”

After teens made the team, the real work began.

For team coaches Amina Iro and Samantha Ariozolla, both rising seniors at UW-Madison and First Wave Scholars, the process of putting a team together proved to be more fluid than expected.

“We started off with a syllabus and more structure, but when the process actually started we had to play so much by ear, but it proved to not be a detriment to the team, it actually helped break things down and build a better team,” said Iro, who was a former BNV participant for the D.C. slam team.

The team had a little over 2 months to write and create performances for both group and individual poems.

“I think other teams had more time to prepare, but I think we pulled through pretty well,” said Arriozola.

For the team members it was a time consuming, but rewarding process.

“It was a big time commitment, but I’m appreciative of that because it was spending time to with people who I enjoy and writing poetry,” said Dietz, a rising junior at East High School. “I though it was good process and I got to bond with everyone.”

“It was the most intense two months of my life,” added Campbell, a rising senior at Shabazz High School. “It wasn’t always fun, but was always fun.”

The team took their hard work to San Francisco July 19-22, not only competing against, but also networking with other youth poets.

“We met so many awesome people and had so many great conversations that only happen there,” said Henderson, who recently graduated from East High School. “I learned a lot about everyone else and myself and I just got exposed to so much this go around and I think it’s awesome, I would definitely try to go again.”

“That’s like one of the only places that I can think of where you can be with poets from all over the world coming together for one purpose and have all of these amazing conversations and really important discussions. I learned a lot,” added Campbell.

Throughout it all the experience proved to be a transformative one for most.

“I’ve always been set on leaving Madison, but being a part of this and meeting people in Madison who are interested in what I’m interested in made me, for the first time, want to stay and consider going to school here, which was really special,” said Dietz.

Though the competition is over the team will continue to perform their work in the city, with their first performance being Sept 9th during a pop up shop and awards ceremony for the JVN Project.

The project hopes to support another team in next year’s festival which will take place in Chicago.

“It’s been really cool to be a part of this first for Madison,” said Campbell. “I’ve lived in Madison all my life and it was cool to represent that on a national and international level.”