'Louder Than a Bomb': the power of a youth poetry slam
A review of the moving documentary "Louder Than a Bomb," which traces the involvement of several students in Chicago's annual poetry-slam competition for high-school teams.
Special to The Seattle Times
'Louder Than a Bomb,' a documentary directed by Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel. 99 minutes. Not rated. SIFF Cinema, through Thursday.
Siskel and poet Lamar Jorden will attend screenings Friday and Saturday night.
Poetry slams are no place for the introverted, no matter how talented a writer might be at slinging verse on paper.
A competition at which poets recite original work before loud, excited audiences, a slam is as much about winning over judges through performance and persona as it is about lyrical brilliance.
"Louder Than a Bomb," a moving and exciting documentary about the niche phenomenon of youth poetry slams, traces the story of a citywide rivalry between Chicago high-school poets at an annual contest.
Filmmakers Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel capture a large slice of the drama and anticipation leading to (and during) the 2008 Louder Than a Bomb (LTAB) event. Wisely, they focus on three very different students and their respective school teams, plus a team from the poor-performing Steinmetz Academic Centre, which unexpectedly won the 2007 LTAB.
Among the adolescents we come to know is Nate, a gifted student who survived a tough South Side neighborhood to become a charismatic mentor to younger slammers. Nova, an honors student, pulled through a tumultuous childhood and helps care for a disabled younger brother. The sweet and spirited Adam reminds observers of a young Allen Ginsberg. The Steinmetz crew includes Lamar and Big C, for whom success at LTAB means so much.
Often captured with feverish lighting and in oddly mesmerizing pastels, the film traces months of writing, workshops and rehearsals. As we get to know these kids, it's clear how profoundly fortunate they were that poetry gave them a voice and identity.
While LTAB competition is real and intense, the way teams from different schools are there for each other — for the greater glory of verse — is powerful. "Louder Than a Bomb" is a good reminder that students need a variety of opportunities to excel.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org
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