This Saturday, teens from around the city will end a journey that began seven months ago when they meet at the Harriet Tubman Theater for the final bouts of the Cincinnati Louder Than A Bomb poetry slam.
A team of communication students from Northern Kentucky University has been documenting the students from Aiken New Tech High School who make up the WordUp and Aiken teams, and who represent two of the eight teams competing in the LTAB semi-finals.
This is a diary of the events from the semi-finals on March 14.
9:13 a.m.- Students, teachers, coaches, parents and children fill the seats in the small, dark DAAP auditorium on University of Cincinnati’s campus. With its modest stage and seating, room 5401 is about to become the battleground where students from across the city and backgrounds will compete for a spot at the finals.
The booth where the DJ’s sit glows in the dark. Designed by UC students using LED lights, the four acrylic panels emanate messages throughout the slam to reveal the LTAB logo and song lyrics designed to look like a sound wave which conveys that sound is just as important as words.
In the center of the stage, a sign with the LTAB logo shows a microphone rising from the words and a fist clenching a pen, conveying the power of the written and spoken word.
Aiken New Tech High School senior Lacy “Asylum” Robinson, 17, is the first of the WordUp students to arrive and he keeps to himself at first and finds a quiet seat to review his poem until other students arrive.
9:46 a.m. – The audience is welcomed by McMicken College of Arts & Sciences Dean Ken Petren.
“This is something we need to do more of,” Petren said. “I’m here to tell the participants, ‘Take a deep breath. Relax, the preparation is over. You’re ready to go. Let it fly. We want to hear your voice and hear what you have to say.'”
9:51 am – Emcee Tony Styxx, a spoken word artist from Indianapolis, takes the stage to a modest applause.
“Now, I drove all the way here in Noah’s Ark style rain for that greeting, so let’s try that again.”
Styxx takes a deep breath and then whispers in the microphone, “This is going to be awesome.”
9:56 a.m. – Tony Styxx explains to the audience that the slam will consist of two team bouts with each bout containing four rounds. Four teams will compete in each bout and send up one poet for each round. After each bout, the scores from each of the rounds will be added and the top two teams will advance to the final. Styxx also has the time-keeper raise her hand who will be keeping time and signal the poets if they go over three minutes.
“Now remember, don’t rush. Live, breathe that piece, but keep it within three minutes,” Styxx said.
After both bouts, there will be an individual competition where poets will compete head-to-head and the top eight poets will advance to the finals.
10:00 a.m. – Tony Styxx asks the audience if they are ready to start the competition
“This is called Louder Than A Bomb and that sounded like a firecracker. Are you ready?”
Audience erupts again into loud applause and yells of excitement as the first round of the first bout begins.
10:04 a.m. – Styxx calls up the first poet from the WordUp team and Tayshona Holliday is the first on stage and free-styled her poem because she forgot the piece she had been working on and got a great response from the audience.
10:16 a.m. – Aiken junior Gift Mayambi, 15, goes up on stage to represent the WordUp team and performs what he calls, “A love letter to my crush.”
“Love is the plant of the most tender kind,” he starts.
10:22 a.m. – “I’m supposed to be the professional here,” Styxx said. “I’m gonna get back to Indianapolis and they be like, ‘How are you?’ I got showed up by a bunch of kids, that’s how I am. It’s traumatic. I got PTSD from a poetry slam.”
10:34 a.m. – Ending round three is Roman Mayambi representing the WordUp team.
“The road is long and we wonder why. It’s like I found my voice in spoken word.”
10:43 a.m. – The first poet for the fourth round finished a poem about the racial violence our nation has recently witnessed and the audience was moved.
“How many of you in here are old enough to remember Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding?” Styxx asks the audience and some of the parents start to laugh. “I’m gonna have to catch some of these poets out back, man.”
10:48 a.m. – Robinson is the last poet for the WordUp team. He performed a poem about a girl he loves and the trials of dealing with a mental disorder. Robinson is a natural performer who doesn’t like to think too much about what he’s going to say before he gets up on stage. He writes the basic idea of what he wants to say and then goes up on stage and says whatever comes out. If he’s nervous, it doesn’t show as he begins.
“And so I’ve got this problem, right,” Robinson begins. “I can’t shake the fact that me and this girl I really love got into a fight.”
Robinson has a powerful presence on stage and a unique perspective and flow that cause people to stop and take notice. The audience explodes into applause when he finishes.
Styxx said. “I guess y’all were listening!”
11:24 a.m. – Tony Styxx takes to the stage and announces that the second bout is about to start.
“Now remember y’all gladiators. Y’all titans. You got this.”
11:33 a.m. – Aiken Senior Casey Roberts is the first poet from the Aiken team to compete in round one of the second bout.
11:44 a.m. – A student from the Seven Hills team performs his piece about a Jew verses and Arab and a misunderstanding they have.
“In the end, we all come from the dirt, but we all come from the same dirt. Dirt fallen from the stars.”
11:48 a.m. – Tony Styxx said, “Alright. The next LTAB, it’s all of y’all against me!”
11:58 a.m. – Another student from the Seven Hills team performs her piece on OCD.
“Dear God, today I realized I left my bible on the floor. I forgot to say please when asking, ‘Can you pass me a fork?’ and was too late to ameliorate my misconduct. I told a secret. I lied to the cafeteria lady so I wouldn’t have to eat her mushy pears and now someone’s going to get hurt because I am a sinner.”
“What?!” Tony Styxx said from the audience.
“Dear God, I curse everyday now. Dear God, I lie one thousand times. Dear God, I don’t go to church on Sundays. Dear God, I can sleep.”
“What?!” Styxx said. “Every time you guys get up here, my brain is still trying to catch up from the first round of the first bout. I haven’t even processed everything else yet. Man, so tiny. She’s so tiny and she came over here and just ran wheels. If you play spades, you know what that means.”
“You guys are so dope. Inspiring. Remember, if what you do or what you participate in doesn’t inspire you to be ten times greater, then what you’re doing is pretty much a waste of time.” Styxx said.
12:20 p.m. – Everyone breaks for a pizza lunch. Students from different teams take the time to talk with each other and to talk about their poetry.
Robinson will be competing in the individual bout and needs to choose whether to perform the same piece he already performed or to perform a completely new poem for the individual bout so he takes a moment to speak with WordUp tutor Zohair Hussain. After getting some words of encouragement, Robinson sits near the stage and writes a new poem he will later perform as his individual piece.
1:18 p.m. – Tony Styxx announces the winners of the team bouts and Hughes/SCPA, Voices at Work, Walnut Hills and Seven Hills teams will compete in the finals on April 18th.
“For those of you who do not advance on to April 18th, I need you to realize something,” Styxx said. “Every single student that has touched this stage has made an impressive mark on this stage.”
1:21 p.m. – Aiken Sophomore Ronnie Adams, 15, starts off the individual slam from WordUp to perform her piece called, “Cinderella,” which discusses how fairy tales don’t represent how everyone feels about love.
“Homosexuality is found in over 450 species. Homophobia is found in one. Neither of these are found in fairy tales.”
Ronnie loses her place and you can tell the nerves are starting to get to her. She covers her face with her rainbow gloves as if she were about to cry. Members of the audience begin to snap to show her support.
Shouts of, “You got this!” and other cries of support can be heard from the audience until she continues her piece.
“The only thing wrong with being gay is the way people treat you when they find out because when I say, ‘Love,’ what comes to mind? Cinderella. But I’m not her and she’s not me. I’m the only me there is and she’s the only she she is. I’m sorry mom’s but I’m not Cinderella.”
After finishing her piece, Adams runs off stage and beings to cry. Her coach and mentor, Elese Daniels and Wordplay co-founder Libby Hunter go out to give her support and after a few moments, she returns to the auditorium.
1:28 p.m. – Tyrese Adams, Ronnie’s twin sister, is up next and she performs her poem, “History.”
“History or His story,” Tyrese asks the audience. “Because we’re American, we’re supposed to be a reference but failed to realize the genocide of Native Americans and suddenly Hitler’s the bad guy because he killed all those Jewish men and women, but we were different. See, we were Jesus sent. Jesus told us to move westward. It was our manifest. Our destiny to expand the American culture I guess.”
1:58 p.m. – Lacy “Asylum” Robinson is waiting to perform next and high fives the poet who is on deck after him.
“That’s what I like to see,” Styxx says after seeing them high-five. “Just cause I’m coming up after you and you’re coming up before me doesn’t mean we can’t greet each other.”
Robinson performs the poem he had just written during the break.
“I do what I do because I dream to be one of the chosen few. I do what I do to find the golden nugget of happiness that is otherwise surrounded in a sea of blues. See, I’m a superhero in my mind and this here is my cape so when I get to my stage, my metropolis, I can say that for close to three minutes, I flew.”
3:00 p.m. – Tony Styxx announces the winners of the individual bout and the top eight scores will compete at the finals on April 18. Lacey “Asylum” Robinson is last name called and wins a spot in the finals. He falls to the ground on his knees and sheds both tears and shouts of both relief and joy before taking his place with the other finalists on stage. It is learned after that Robinson had scored the highest individual score of the night.
Tyrese Adams is named an alternate for the individual bout and if one of the finalists can’t participate for any reason, she will compete.