In 2008, youth poet mentor Trey “Freethought” Josey attended the National Poetry Slam in Madison, Wis., with the Alaska slam team. He and fellow poet Kima Hamilton returned determined to bring Alaskan voices to the national stage.
“I literally woke up and was like, ‘I’m taking a team to nationals,’” Josey said. “There was no way they could deny us. … Ever since then we’ve been building a team.”
Brave New Alaskan Voices, or BNAV, began in January 2011. After holding a series of slams, assorted slam judges chose six youth to represent Alaska. The first team attended the Brave New Voices international youth poetry festival in San Francisco, Calif., that same year.
“Now we’re in an international dialogue that takes place among young poets,” said Josey, “and I think it’s an amazing thing.”
The goal of Brave New Alaskan Voices and youth poetry outfits all across the country is to cultivate safe spaces in which young people can speak freely and uncensored.
“One of the few places I know where you can actually speak your mind is in (mental health) treatment,”said Josey, “With this I’m hoping to give (youth) the opportunity and resources with which they can explore their own voices.”
Hayden Kotelman, a Highland Tech High junior at the time, searched for his voice at slams held in the Out North Contemporary Art House in 2011.
“It either went really well and I was overwhelmed with excitement,” said Kotelman, “or it went so bad that I blocked it out of my memory.”
Kotelman is currently a sophomore history major at UAA. He also works in the executive branch of BNAV, which deals with social media and administrative matters. Kotelman discovered slam poetry in a high school English class his junior year.
“That year I saw all these poets and they said exactly what they meant,” said Kotelman, “it opened up this whole new world like … I can just get up on stage and say it and people will support me.”
In addition to competing in the Brave New Voices festival with Brave New Alaskan Voices in 2012, Kotelman designed the organization’s website, http://bnav.org. Kotelman hopes to start a College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational team at UAA.
On March 24 and 28, qualifying slams were held to choose the fourth year’s team. Nine poets competed and all will move onto the finals being held in April.
“In spoken word you’re using dance, you’re using music, you’re using your voice and your body. … It’s all the same, I think,” said Josey.
In an effort to raise funds and awareness for BNAV, an open house was held on March 26.
“We have problems here that can easily parallel places like New York and Philly,” said Kotelman. “We can come together as a community and change those problems.”
Josey is hopeful for BNAV’s future, saying, “We’re looking to have (groups) all across the state. I want to go to the festival to share. … I think it’s important to put our consciousness into the world. If we don’t, it just doesn’t happen.”
To learn more about Brave New alaskan Voices, visit it website at http://bnav.org, connect on Facebook at facebook.com/bravenewalaskanvoices or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.