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The Bay’s Lightning Poet’s Society (LPS) has been preparing for the seventh year in a row for Louder Than A Bomb (LTAB), a statewide spoken word poetry competition and 14-day festival held in March for high school, middle school and college students sponsored by the Jason Taylor Foundation. Although the group currently holds the title of reigning champions, AICE English and Creative Writing teacher and club adviser Shawntee Herring said success this time around would be defined as making it as far as the finals. 

“We came in second two years ago, and we were still so ecstatic because we knew that we were the best,” Herring said. “We don’t even have to win; we just need to make it.” 

LPS has performed for several occasions throughout the year, including at the Gifted Symposium, for Black History Month and at open mic events called Lyrical Lounge and Voice Box. Still, LTAB is distinct in its competitive atmosphere and its scale encompassing more than 40 schools and 300 poets. Club member Joey Ruth said she decided to participate in LTAB because of its compatibility with her interest in like-minded companionship.

“I decided to join the competition because writing is my passion,” Ruth said. “I didn’t have a group of people who understood the true feelings of a writer before, but my team members now can relate to my struggles and triumphs, and that’s what made it so enticing.”

While LTAB traditionally takes place at several locations such as the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, the Sunrise Cultural Center and the Hard Rock Stadium, adjustments have been made this year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic so that preliminary contests will be recorded virtually while semifinals and finals will take place at a to-be-determined venue. Herring said the pandemic has also affected preparations for the competition.

“We are a tight-knit group that shares very personal things with each other, and we had to try very hard to sustain that in this media,” Herring said. “My room used to be a break from the day; now, because of the medium, our day is extended since we are looking at the same screen.” 

The group competition’s preliminary level consists of two bouts of five rounds, each bout involving a different set of seven teams. The first three rounds of each bout require one performer per team, the fourth round allows for one to four performers per team and the fifth round requires four performers per team. Senior Cathy Pericas said a poet may experience a combination of emotions before, during and after performing on stage.

“In the beginning, you are trying to tell yourself that you are not nervous and that you are going to perform fine, but you are being so vulnerable while you’re up there,” Pericas said. “Afterward, it feels like a weight is lifted from your chest, and it is just an incredible experience to see how the audience reacts and to get feedback from poets around you; it reminds me of how much I love to perform.”

Since there is no improvisation involved in spoken word poetry, the club has prepared as a group by not only discussing, writing and memorizing what will be said but also by rehearsing the pitch, rhythm, pacing, enunciation and timing of it. Ruth said that while this will be her first time participating in LTAB, channeling her feelings has always been a critical component of the writing process.

“I am still working on talking the right way and the way I present my voice, but for me, emotions write the best poems,” Ruth said. “I can bang out a good poem if I’m feeling a certain way or if something big happens.” 

Pericas said that it is through this preparation process, as well as the performing experience, that LTAB prepares students for real life. She said that although the artistic expression honed at this event is a treasure on its own, the skills required for a successful presentation are the same ones that are valuable in the workplace.

“You definitely learn a lot about collaboration and how to work as a team, which is super important,” Pericas said. “Also, performing on stage and allowing yourself to be vulnerable helps build confidence and public speaking skills.”