Monday, March 30, 2009

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Northside College Prep student joins Chicago's all-star spoken word team

My sixth beat story for Newswriting.


A Northside College Prep senior will be one of six Chicago area high school students representing the city in this year's Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival.

Matt Ramir, 18, won the third-place individual speaker award after competing with his school's slam poetry team at Sunday's Louder Than A Bomb Teen Poetry Festival presented by Young Chicago Authors. The top six individual speakers at LTAB were selected to form an all-star spoken word team and compete at Brave New Voices, to be held at the Chicago Theater this summer.

As a first-time LTAB competitor who joined on a whim, Ramir said the win came as a surprise.

“It was amazing, winning third,” Ramir said. “The shock is still setting in. But I'm so glad people heard me.”

The Chicago team will be one of 50 teams at this year's competition, being held from July 14 through July 19. Brave New Voices is a part of Youth Speaks, America's “leading spoken word performance, education and youth development organization.” For a week, teen slam poets from across the country—and parts of Africa and Europe—perform their poetry for audiences reaching upwards of 10,000.

Ramir has been writing since the 8th grade after his father encouraged him to explore poetry. He admits his first attempts at poetry were “horrible,” but he found his footing through practice and performing at an open mic night at Coffee Chicago in the Uptown neighborhood.

“Living,” the poem Ramir performed at Sunday's LTAB finals, reflects his battle for self-acceptance in the face of negativity and a debilitating ailment: Ramir was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that effects voluntary muscle movement.

“Ruptured uterus,” Ramir’s poem begins, “The worst thing a doctor can tell an expecting mother / Disabled / The worst thing a doctor can call her child / Cripple / A word that has tortured me ever since.”

“When I was born, I was cut off [from] my oxygen for a while, and it resulted in damaging the cerebrum,” he said. “[It] means that my brain tells my hand to do something like wave high, but ... my hands don't get the message clearly and do something else.”

Ramir posted a poem inspired by his childhood memories of dealing with his disability on a gaming website. A commenter laughed at him “for being a cripple,” Ramir said.

“I always felt I was laughed at as a child, and hearing it again when I am older was like, 'Oh, crap.' But I decided to write about it instead.”

Ramir was worried the piece would be “cliché,” a big no-no in slam poetry. But Ramir said his coach, Nora Flannagan, assured him otherwise.

“I write whatever is in my heart, but for the LTAB piece Mrs. Flannagan was like, 'No one has ever done a disabled piece,' so I decided to try it and it somehow worked,” Ramir said.

“He found his voice, and it's a voice that the slam needed to hear,” Flannagan said.
“Entire audiences gave him standing ovations every single time he performed, and I was so grateful for that. The response he got showed him that his voice had a place at the slam - a vital place.”

She added that the performance was a tribute, “to the atmosphere that Kevin (Coval, co-founder of LTAB) and LTAB have fostered, where a kid with a disability can go from feeling like a target in everyday life to being literally center stage.”

Ramir, who will be working towards a computer science degree at University of Illinois in Chicago after graduation in June, said despite his hesitation, he's glad he performed the piece.

“Now that I've performed it, I feel much more strongly about it,” Ramir said. “I hope it speaks to future generations to help them understand the struggles you face with a disability, and the things we do to move past them. [For] me, [it's] poetry.”

You can listen to the poem Matt performed that night here.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Louder Than A Bomb Erupts Sunday Night

On Sunday night I went to the Vic Theater after hearing word of a must-see event: Louder Than A Bomb, a teen poetry slam so fierce, so inspiring, I would be crazy to miss it. It was monsoon-like weather that afternoon, winds blowing so hard rain drops moved horizontally, making the most sturdy umbrella completely useless. But still, I followed the siren call and was not disappointed.

Named after one of the songs on Public Enemy's "It Takes A Nation To Hold Us Back," Louder Than A Bomb, presented by Young Chicago Authors, provides students from across the Chicago area an outlet for their thoughts. On the stage, they command attention. They have things to say and damn it, you're going to listen to them.

During the five hour competition and festival on Sunday, I was continually awed by how poised they were and their talent. If you look back at my old journals, my teenage angst was embarrassing in its...well...insignificance. But these kids are talking about real issues from domestic violence to living with a disability. Even the more "OMG" aspects of being a teenager take on an ironic spin through the deft pens of these young poets.

Take a multimedia walk through the event with me below.

A slideshow of pictures I took at Sunday's Louder Than A Bomb.


He Still Loves HER from iamchicago on Vimeo.

Gabbi's Ode to Lil' Wayne from iamchicago on Vimeo.

Gabbi's Ode to Lil' Wayne. For a complete listen, click here.

Chicago Public Radio had some of the students record their poems. These poems are posted on their website.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What You Talking About, Willis?

(Photo of the Sears Tower prior to its renaming, taken by me on an architectural boat tour)

First Marshall Fields, now this. Sears Tower, the largest building in America, will be renamed Willis Tower under a leasing agreement with London-based company the Willis Group Holdings Ltd.

I don't care what the Brits want to call it, it will forever be known as the Sears Tower to me and fellow Chicagoans who take up this call to action: Let our children's children know that this great feat in architecture was and forever will be the Sears Tower!

I only have 10 packets of Lipton Tea, but I'm tossing it in Lake Michigan for my own Boston Tea Party. No taxation without representation and no changing names of historic landmarks, either!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Just the Facts, Man

(Image courtesy of Consequence of Sound)

Lollapalooza, one of the most anticipated summer music festivals in Chicago, is beginning to put its feelers out as we inch towards warmer and warmer months. Little info is out right now, but here are the basics:

When: August 7 - 9, 2009
Where: Chicago's favorite playground in the summer, Grant Park
Who: Right now only headliners are confirmed. Depeche Mode, concert founder Perry Farrell's reunited band, Jane's Addiction and the Beastie Boys

For more information in the coming months check out Lollapalooza's Web site here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Happy Birthday Chicago

(Editor's Note: I don't need to feel intoxicated to feel incredibly close to Chicago. Chicago intoxicates me. )

Even though I'm going through a private hell of my own making, I still raise a glass to you on your 172nd birthday. You don't look a day over 100!