Three years ago, Eva Sierra didn't know what a poetry slam looked or sounded like.
During a school field trip to Tucson, the Douglas teen got to check out a gathering by the Tucson Youth Poetry Slam. She was hooked. The spoken word and all therapeutic emotions that derive from having a room full of attentive ears listening to your thoughts penetrated her soul and never left. She's been non-stop slamming since October 2012.
Sierra became such a regular presence with the group—even though she resides about three hours away—they even invited her to become a member of the staff.
"Writing is a coping mechanism, I always feel good after I slam," she says. "The topics they were covering like sexuality and abuse and culture...that really got my attention and inspired me to write about my own personal issues."
Self-expression, self-love, empowerment, think critically, your voice matters—they all have influenced the foundation of TYPS since its inception, and for the past five years it's been around.
Gonzales and Phillips are the guiding forces but the marketing and other backstage prepping is in the hands of the youth, who are between ages 12 and 19.
"We are not just trying to make a bunch of spoken word poets, we are trying to support young people and their leadership," Gonzales says. "Using poetry, writing, having them perform it, it is another language. It's about the voice. For young people to share what it is that they think about different issues and how they impact them."
On Saturday, after a successful poetry slam season, the group is hosting its fifth All City Poetry Slam Championship, where everyone gets to share some of the original work they've been creating and then a winner is chosen. (Sierra says it's more about getting their message out there. The competitiveness doesn't get the best out of anyone.)
It doesn't feel like number 5 to Gonzales. And, although it gets bigger every year, it still feels very much like family—an extended family that keeps getting more members as time passes by.
"There is a lot of community building that happens all year round," she says. "Everyone starts out differently. A lot of young people need encouragement because they have been told that their voice doesn't matter."
How does it feel to see the teens grow physically, emotionally and mentally?
"It silences me," she says.
The slam poets come from all regions of Southern Arizona, some traveling down here from Florence and Douglas like Sierra.
Sierra has been involved with bringing poetry slam to the borderlands of Douglas, and is pulling strings to get youth from Agua Prieta, Sonora involved, as well. They have events at coffee shops, including readings and workshops.
"Douglas is such a small town, you don't much stuff like that at all, and a lot of these people have seen so many things, living in a community with two cultures, it really comes through the writing," Sierra says.
The All City Slam Poetry Championship is taking place this Saturday at the UA's Gallagher Theater. It's free and begins at 1 p.m. Other help for the event comes from Casa Libre, Bentley’s House of Coffee & Tea, ASUA Diversity, among others. For more information visit TucsonYouthPoetrySlam.org.
Photo: Teré Fowler Chapman
Logan Phillips, far left, and Sarah Gonzales, far right, with TYPS poets during last year's championship.