Dartmouth students take the stage at Kennedy Center

by Tatiana Cooke | 8/16/10 10:00pm

Although she is normally found at open mic nights in One Wheelock performing slam poetry wih fellow Soul Scribes, Aimee Le '12 experienced a change of venue when she and Murktarat Yussuf '12 shared the stage with members of the Grammy Award-winning reggaeton band The Roots, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. on July 18.

The sold-out performance of "An Evening of Music and Verse" during "An American Playlist," a three-day summer series celebrating the performing arts through spoken word, dance and music, was a "mindblowing" experience, Le said.

"An American Playlist' was a whole bunch of youth poets from across the country coming together," Le said. "We had some workshops and hung out for a couple of days, then did the performance."

The performance particularly focused on social justice issues. Youth performers also helped shape the evening's program by working with director Steven Sapp to decide which poems fit best into the show, Le said.

Le and Yussuf were invited to participate in the Kennedy Center event because program coordinators had heard some of their previous works. Their particular narrative voices presented in their poetry provided a different perspective to fit into the diverse voices represented at the show, Le said.

"What I loved was getting to hear my fellow poets perform on the stage and get to hang out with them," she said.

Le had visited the Kennedy Center prior to this year's performance and found working with her fellow participants to be much more exciting than the idea of being on stage at such a prestigious concert venue, she said.

"It's always such an amazing social experience and I'm always really impressed by the talent I feel like it's about community," she said.

Le first became involved in spoken word competition during her junior year in high school when she competed in a city-wide poetry slam in her hometown of Ann Arbor, Mich., and was invited to join her high school's team.

In 2008, the Ann Arbor Youth Poetry Slam Team was featured in the HBO documentary series "Brave New Voices," which highlighted performances that happen as a part of Youth Speaks, a literary arts organization that organizes country-wide events such as the National Youth Poetry Slam.

"I started out because my teacher told me that if we competed in the slam we'd get extra credit in our writing class," Le said. "At first I thought it was a little stupid."

The team met each week during the academic year to work on pieces and to participate in workshops. The six team members competed in the national contest in San Jose, Calif., during her junior year and in the national competition in Washington, D.C. her senior year, according to Le. Le met Yussuf, who competed on a youth team from Washington, D.C., when they got to campus their freshman year.

Le is active in the Dartmouth Soul Scribes, a campus group that organizes open mic events and provides a space for students interested in performance poetry and spoken word.

Soul Scribes members compete in slams and sent a team of five to the Ninth Annual College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational in 2009, Le said.

At the competition, which was hosted by the University of Pennsylvania, Le was recognized for her poems "Theft" and "Ode to Phil," in reference to Philip Seymour Hoffman, which received the "Best of the Rest" and "Funniest Poem" awards, respectively.

"I think basically everything good in my life is due to people I've met through poetry," Le said.

Performing at Dartmouth is different from other venues because of the creative atmosphere of the College, according to Le.

"I think being at college gives you a captive audience, especially somewhere like Dartmouth," Le said. "It's a good thing to have people listening to you, but at times it doesn't make you push yourself."

The Dartmouth poetry scene fosters a mix of styles because of the diversity of the campus' student population, she said.

"I think the best thing about Dartmouth poetry is that everybody has their own voice and they're not trying to sound like anybody else," Le said.

The competition aspect of such events is a gimmick that poetry organizations use to draw large audiences to performances they would not otherwise attend, Lesaid. While she may not continue traveling to competitions after graduation, Le will continue to write original works, she added.

Le is majoring in film modified with Asian and Middle Eastern studies at the College, but is exploring literary techniques through a creative writing class this summer.