Despite having done some research and being really excited about attending a poetry event this semester, I went to “Joy, Despite: Poetry Night in Ann Arbor” not really knowing what to expect. I knew it featured Ann Arbor teens and I had researched the headliners Kyndall Flowers, Dylan Gilbert, and Zaphra Stupple, but that was all. It completely surpassed any expectations I wasn’t aware of having, to create a night of joy.
As Marty Roper said in the opening statements, this show was about “transforming pain into purpose”. The result of this transformation left me alternating between emphatic snaps and thoughtful contemplation of my own interlocking identities; it is my opinion that this is the sign of good, if not great, art- when I, as a viewer, become so invested in a work that I begin to internalize and apply it to my own life. This experience left me honored to be in a space with these wonderful artists and their families.
Pieces touched on topics of class, race, gender, anxiety, depression, access to clean water, and ethnicity. The bravery and vulnerability these teens harnessed in expressing their stories was humbling and inspirational. All these amazing works culminated in a final piece together that pulled phrases and topics from each work performed that night. They were woven together in one huge final spoken word piece about diversity and power. The result hung in the air and remains with me a day later.
This experience and the feeling of having witnessed something genuine and unique, from people at most 4 years younger than myself, lead me to do more research on The Neutral Zone- the program that worked with all these artists to bring this show about. Here is a brief history of the group from their website:
“In 1998, a group of Ann Arbor teens gathered to discuss the need for a place where teens could congregate after school and on weekends. From the very beginning, they felt this place should be more than just a hangout; that is could be a safe place to make new friends, mix with youth from different backgrounds, explore new ideas, learn new skills and do it all in a setting that was teen friendly and teen driven. Teens wrote the mission statement and the first grant proposal to the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and, with seed money in hand, enlisted parents and friends to turn an old brick and timber warehouse into a teen center.”
Visit their website to learn more about ways to get involved and upcoming events!