Talent: From left, Ayana Ming-Bean, Matthew Johnston, Tenae Hassell and Marquedelle Rodriguez. *Photo by Sarah Lagan
Talent: From left, Ayana Ming-Bean, Matthew Johnston, Tenae Hassell and Marquedelle Rodriguez. *Photo by Sarah Lagan

WEDNESDAY, JULY 4: Eight young spoken words artists are to represent Bermuda in an international poetry slam festival in San Francisco that could be aired on HBO. 

The young poets are members of the Chewstick Foundation’s ChewSlam group and will perform at the 15th annual Brave New Voices event, created by Youth Speaks Inc in 1998. The youngster will compete against other poets from across the US as well as other countries from July 17 to 21.

Chewstick is throwing a fundraising event this Sunday starring the young poets to help fund the trip with special guest performances by Heather Nova, Alan Smith, Ras Mykkal, Stephan Johnstone, Vejay Steede and Yesha Townsend. The eight youngsters are Kaiias Clarke; Kalaeb Tannock; Kevina-Lorae’ Davis; Tenae Hassell; Makeem “Haz” Bartley; Marquedelle Rodriguez, Matthew Johnston and Ayana Ming Bean.

One of ChewSlam’s poetry coaches Stephan Johnstone told the Bermuda Sun: “This is the first time any Bermudian team under 18 has competed internationally in terms of spoken word. The experience this is a confidence builder, anything like this can be life changing because you are going abroad and sharing poetry and you are around other poets.”

The Bermuda Sun sat down with four of the artists to talk about their inspirations and motivations in the world of poetry.

• Tenae Hassell, 17:

Tenae was voted winner of the People’s Choice Award for the inaugural Bermuda’s Youth Got Talent this year for her poetry.

She wrote her first poem at the age of just six for her church and she said that while she knows there are limited career options as a poet, she would still like to try to pursue it professionally.

One of the poems she will be performing recalls a difficult period in her family life.

She explained: “For a while when we were living in New York, we were in between houses — we were technically homeless. We were not ‘out on the street’ homeless but we were staying in hotels or with friends so I was writing about the other side of homelessless that you don’t hear about. It was a very tough period. Poetry helps me deal with my emotions.”

She decided to join ChewSlam after hearing about it from her aunt and from that moment, she said: “I fell in love.”

Tenae said she is excited about meeting the poets who are taking part in Brave New Voices as she is a fan of the show. “This is a very big deal for me — I knew about Brave New Voices when I was in New York. 

“I am going to be star struck because I watch them online and to go and complete against them is going to be a huge deal.”

• Matthew Johnston, 19:

Matthew has been performing at ChewSlam since it started in 2010 and has been writing seriously since he was 16.

Many of his poems are influenced by the underground hip hop music of the 90s. He has also performed at events around the island and in talent shows on Penn State University campus where he is studying.

“My poems often target social issues. Other times I write more emotional poems. One of the pieces that I’m going to be performing in San Francisco is about being broken hearted.

“It is from my own experience. Those are really moving that are from your own experience and you can connect with people.”

• Marquedelle Rodriguez, 15:

Marquedelle has only been with ChewSlam for two months. His interest in writing originated from his love of rap music.

“I used to come to Chewstick to experience what it would be like trying to make my own music. Gavin (Smith) told me about ChewSlam and I really enjoyed the experience. I really love for people to feel what I am feeling. I want to just make people remember the moment. One piece is really deep and is about something many people don’t know about me. If I tell it to people I think I will feel much more comfortable — people can understand that life is precious — it is just a story. It is really dear to me.”

• Ayana Ming Bean, 16:

Ayana has been known to take everyday scenarios and use them to represent more significant life experiences. Her sister Deidra Lee Bean, who works for Chewstick, introduced her to the ChewSlam group when it started. Before that she had never even written a poem before.

“I write about any number of things — it depends on the day. I wrote a poem about parking a car and I took every aspect of parking, broke it into different parts and made similes and metaphors of it.

“I have a piece prepared for San Francisco — something simple that I use to make a giant metaphor of. Like the parking I use it to represent life.”