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Speaking Louder Than a Bomb

Last year’s Louder Than a Bomb poet competition. Photo courtesy Christina Butcher

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"I'm even lethal when I'm unarmed," rapped Public Enemy, "'cause I'm louder than a bomb." That song inspired the title of Louder Than a Bomb (LTAB), a competition for Chicago poets ages 12 to 19. This month-long event was founded in 2001 by Kevin Coval and Anna West of the nonprofit group Young Chicago Authors. After the Sept. 11 attacks, Chicago police imposed curfews particularly on youths of color. The LTAB competition gave burgeoning poets a chance to tell their side of the story.

Poet Michael Haeflinger, who worked on LTAB in Chicago, moved to Tacoma and saw a similar divide in the Gritty City. He resolved to institute an LTAB competition here as well. Poet Christina Butcher attended that event in 2017 and, in her words, "fell in love immediately." This year, Tacoma LTAB's fourth, Saturday, March 23, she's taking the reins in her role as coordinator for Write253. "I love working with youth," Butcher said. "I love poetry and seeing so many youths come together -- and not only that, but the poetry's good. If you didn't know that these were youth, you would not ... be able to tell the difference between the quality of work as youth versus an adult." Last year, 18 teams competed. Butcher expects similar involvement this month.

"Chicago's just a very segregated city," explained Butcher, recounting LTAB's earliest incarnations. "The youths there can go almost their whole lives or their whole youth without going into other neighborhoods." LTAB, she says, "focuses on getting youths to express themselves through creative arts positively, and also to get them meeting and hanging out with and building relationships with people that they otherwise would never meet."

What's the prize for winning? "There's no prize!" Butcher exclaimed, laughing. "I love that. ... I think that really speaks to the spirit of this competition, and that people understand that the point is in no way winning and it is in no way how many points you get. And that's a longstanding motto at the competition: The point is not the points. The point is the poem."

For the first time ever, LTAB-Tacoma is adding an independent "College-Age" slam for a dozen poets ages 19 to 24. "The only rules that we have on content, regardless of the age, is no gratuitous cursing or violence," said Butcher. The college slam, which sends winning poets to perform at the youth finals, takes place in Anthem Coffee (1911 Pacific Ave.), 2 p.m., Saturday. "LTAB was a big part of (teen poets') last year or two of high school," Butcher continued. "When students graduate from high school, they lose their community." She believes the college slam encourages "stepping into your creative community as an adult and taking charge of meeting other people who are trying to do the same thing." At 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 20, Butcher and Haeflinger will interview poets Britteney Black, Rose Kapri and José Olivarez before a live audience at King's Books (218 St. Helens Ave.) as an episode of Butcher's The Prickly Pear Podcast.

LTAB-Tacoma's 40-odd judges include Olympia filmmaker-writer Jonah Barrett, King's Books owner sweet pea Flaherty, 2015-2017 Tacoma poet laureate Thy Nguy?n, Tacoma poet Christian Paige, current Tacoma poet laureate Kellie Richardson and Olympia's 2018 poet laureate, Amy Solomon-Minarchi.

"The point of all this is connection, right?" Butcher asked. "So, if you're only able to move one person and that's it, ultimately I think that's a great poem."

Editor's note: Christina Butcher is a Weekly Volcano contributor

LOUDER THAN A BOMB, 6 p.m., Saturday, March 23, Fawcett Hall, Alma Mater, 1322 Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, $10 suggested donation, 253.257.8226

COLLEGE-AGE SLAM, 2 p.m., Saturday, March 17, Anthem Coffee, 1911 Pacific Ave., Tacoma

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