Louder Than a Bomb is a festival where high school poets compete with their poetry. Yes, I know this sounds ludicrous. It kind of is. Which is why it’s so much fun.
Run by the nonprofit Nebraska Writers Collective, schools and organizations send teams who have been writing and working on performance with a coach for anywhere from one to nine months. They all get two preliminary bouts and maybe a “post-season” of semi-finals and finals bouts where they put up four individual poems and one group poem (written and performed by four team members) against three other teams. After each poem, judges chosen from the audience hold up numbers from zero to ten and, at the end of the night, determine a winner.
That’s the format of it, at least. The reality is that the points are not the point. The students form bonds with each other, whether they’re on the same team or not, and really support and encourage one another. One of my favorite moments from the 2012-13 festival was when two teams from last year’s finals, Bellevue West and Lincoln High, were in a bout against one another. After a Lincoln High student finished a poem and left the stage to a cheering crowd, it was the Bellevue West team who first ran up to him and lifted him up. Yes, the point is poetry.
And the point is these students telling us who they are, who they were, about baseball, about the internet, about dating, about breaking up, about dinosaurs, about—well…everything. And saying it in ways which bring audiences to their feet.
That’s a pretty good point, don’t you think?
Matt Mason is Executive Director of the Nebraska Writers Collective. He’s won a Pushcart Prize and two Nebraska Book Awards (for Poetry in 2007 and Anthology in 2006); organized and run poetry programming with the U.S. Department of State in Kathmandu, Nepal and Minsk, Belarus; and been on five teams at the National Poetry Slam. His second full-length poetry collection, The Baby That Ate Cincinnati, is just out from Stephen F. Austin University Press. Matt lives in Omaha with his wife, the poet Sarah McKinstry-Brown, and daughters Sophia and Lucia.