Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Louder than a Bomb Film & Discussion Guide

Poetry seems to some to be the most refined, most remote of literary genres. At times, it is given only cursory attention in secondary school English/Language Arts curricula deemed too difficult and obtuse.

But poetry is far from being an irrelevant literary form. Student poetry has filled school literary magazines for generations. Poetry slams, harkening back to the Beat Generation, have gained renewed popularity on high school and college campuses, as well as in local coffee shops and public libraries.

The film Louder Than A Bomb documents a full-blown competition to showcase students who write and perform their works right here in Chicago.

In an age of learning standards that privilege certain practical reading and writing skills with the aim of preparing students for the working world, what place might the formal and informal study of poetry have in this learning spectrum? Shouldn't poetry be the stuff of life that extends beyond career preparation?

Discussion Guide

Intro to film: 
What you are about to see is more than just a documentary about a poetry slam. It is a 90-minute snapshot of an ongoing revolutionary movement that is using the arts in a general sense and particularly spoken-word poetry to break social barriers, empower youth who are disenfranchised by an unbalanced socio-economic system, and build communities dedicated to the work of reuniting education with social justice. Harnessing the powers of writing and performance, organizations such as Young Chicago Authors (the non-profit that sponsors “Louder Than A Bomb”) are turning the tables of education, restoring it to what it should be and in fact always has been – a conversation, rather than a monologue. The teachers who serve as “coaches” for their schools' poetry slam teams do not dictate to their students what is truth. Instead, they ask their students to speak their truths.

 This single act, which can be as simple as asking the question “Where are you from?” has revolutionized education in Chicago and cities around the world. By validating the stories, lived experiences, and languages of their students, these teachers, poetry mentors, and artists offer young people opportunities to engage with their communities and literally reshape their worlds with their words.

 The stories these young people have to tell are moving and inspiring, eloquently crafted and performed. Their ability to evoke the emotions and social conscience of audiences far and wide is the root of this film's success in the public sphere. The old proverb “the pen is mightier than the sword” is still true. Likewise, as you will see, the voice of a teenager can be louder than a bomb.

Discussion questions for after the film:

  • Why do you think Louder Than A Bomb got so popular amongst youth in Chicago? (Remember that, with about 500 youth participants from about 50 schools, it is the largest youth poetry slam in the world)
  • What does LTAB offer the youth who participate? (community, creative outlet, a chance to tell their stories, academic support, etc)Thinking about Steinmetz and other socio-economically disadvantaged schools, what does LTAB offer students that they might not otherwise find in their high school experience? (a supportive, accepting community of peers and mentors; an opportunity to tell their stories in their own words to people who are really listening and want to hear)
  • Compare and contrast the four main stories in the film – Nate, Nova, Adam and Steinmetz. In what ways are these poets and their stories different, and in what ways are they similar? (Different in terms of issues and struggles they deal with, similar in that they use writing as a way of coping with these issues)
    • What challenges do they face, at home, at school, or otherwise?
  • What was familiar to you in the film, and what was new to you? Who did you relate to most and why? Which “character's” life/struggle was least like your own, and what did you learn from their story?
  • Why are writing and performing such powerful outlets for these youth?
  • What are some questions or issues around the education system that the film raises?
    • (Why aren't there more supportive programs for youth that focus on community-building, story-telling, and empowerment? How do schools prioritize creativity as a learning goal? Why are art, music, and other creative-learning programs so often the first to be cut in a budget crisis? Why is this a problem? What does the film suggest about the role of creativity in learning?)
  • What makes LTAB an important tool for education and social justice? (promotes cultural understanding, listening, story-telling, literacy, etc)
    • How might students, teachers, and schools benefit from open, positive community spaces such as LTAB?
  • What are some of the limits or problems of LTAB, particularly with the slam format, that we see from the film? (promotes competition, can be hurtful)
  • What are other questions/issues, ideas or reactions that the film brought up for you?

Extension Activity: Write a poem (in groups of up to four or individually) inspired by the film. It can be an ode to the power of poetry/story-telling in a community (in the style of “poet breathe now” by Adam or “Look” by Nate), or an explanation of your perspective on poetry and what it is/ is not/ can be. Suggestion: use the line “Poetry is _______” as an anaphora (beginning phrase of each line). (Note: this is technically an "Ars Poetica" exercise, but does not have to be labeled such, unless you want to.)

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