Poetic License Information Sheet
by David Yanofsky
The documentary POETIC LICENSE captures the lives of teenage poets whose spoken word performances allow them to candidly express what it's like growing up in America today. The television program will be broadcast nationally on public television stations this spring and fall.
Performance poetry, or spoken word, is a growing force among teens. With roots as diverse as the West African Griot tradition, Native American oral storytelling and Beat Be-bop, spoken word gives teens a chance to sort out complex issues, view their lives as a source of inspiration, and incorporate their own rhythms and language into art. POETIC LICENSE follows several young poets who mesmerize audiences as they candidly express what it's like to grow up in America.
From the Filmmaker
While working overseas as a journalist, the only images I had received of American teenagers were of them being whisked away in police cars, ducking through metal detectors at school, and skateboarding through malls. Upon my return to the United States, a friend told me about an exciting poetic movement taking root with a new generation of young writers that contradicted these pessimistic portrayal of teens. Spoken word (also known as slam poetry) was becoming popular with young people, allowing them to find their voice and powerfully express what it was like growing up in America today.
In January 1998, I walked into my first youth poetry reading in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Immediately, I was blown away by the power of their poetry. I witnessed a collection of young writers holding a mostly adult audience spellbound with their intelligence and creativity. They spoke poignantly about tough themes like tolerance, ethnicity, and sexuality. I realized right then the need for a film that would communicate and document the passion and talent of this generation.
The Teen Poetry Movement
There is a historic movement taking place today among teenagers in America: poetry is becoming popular again. Crossing gender, ethnic, and geographic lines, teenagers all over the country are discovering poetry and spoken word, finding refuge in an outlet that nurtures and celebrates their voice. While much of this recent attention to language stems from the beats and rhythms of Hip-Hop, the poetic wave is reaching nearly every type of American youth. From the dusty roads of the Navajo Nation to the crowded streets of New York City, teens are grabbing hold of the microphone and finding their voice.
In addition to blazing a new poetic path, the teens in Poetic License are also connecting to the rich history of oral poetry and story telling. Whether it is the Griots of West Africa, Native American elders, or the free spirits of the Beat generation, the young writers in Poetic License represent the most recent point on a long historical continuum.
Poetry slams began ten years ago in Chicago. A local construction worker named Marc Smith embarked on a mission to take poetry back from "the academics and ivory towers" and return it to its rightful owners: the people. To underscore his belief that anyone can be both a poet and a judge of poetry, Smith picked people randomly from the audience and asked them to score the poems on a scale of one to ten.
Today, poetry slams are being held in nearly every city and town in America. While most of these events are geared towards adults, increasingly teens are being drawn to the slams and other non-competitive readings. At these events, teen poets use performance poetry to create a dialogue not only with other young writers, but with the adult audience members as well.
The documentary film Poetic License captures dynamic young writers as they perform their work and discuss their poetic influences and inspirations. The producer has created the film to serve as a catalyst, providing an initial spark to get young people interested in writing. After seeing the teen poets on screen, we hope that youths in the audience will be inspired to pick up the pen and discover their voice.
To this end, we are developing a set of multimedia materials that follow in the film's wake. These include:
Viewer's Guide - created as a companion to the film, it contains discussion points, a series of writing exercises, a how-to put on a poetry slam, and a list of resources. (read or download the viewer's guide)
Teacher's Guide - a 150 page blueprint for teaching spoken word poetry to teens. Written by Youth Speaks and published by Heinemann Press (Fall 2001), this guide is an invaluable tool for anyone working with young writers. (order)
Double CD - an exciting collection of live audio performances from the 2000 National Teen Poetry Slam. The CD captures the variety of poetic styles represented in this youth literary movement. (order)
Web site (www.poeticlicense.org) - this contains a section for educators to help them as they integrate spoken word into their classroom or after school workshop
Online Poetry Journal - this monthly online journal will publish works from teens all over the country, in any form - text, audio, or video. A youth editorial committee will select the entries each month. (submit)
School visits - Youth Speaks, a leading youth literary organization, will bring its creativity and vast experience into your classroom, workshop or auditorium. It is armed with some of the most compelling performers/educators in the country. (inquire)
Professional Development - the producer is establishing partnerships with graduate education departments to offer an online professional development course.
1529 D Pershing Dr.
San Francisco, SF 94129
The film can be ordered through New Day Films (www.newday.com or 888-367-9154) or through the order form at http://www.poeticlicense.org. There is also a 34 minute version available for classroom use.