Penn Slam-Poet Joshua Bennett: "On a First-Name Basis With the Wind"
May 19, 2009
If you've ever been curious about what Amy Gutmann means when she says that
Penn students have the potential to "improve the world in bolder, more
unpredictable ways", then listen (up!) to this.
and "slam champ" Joshua Bennett performed live last week in the East
Room of the White House -- and received a standing ovation from President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle
Obama, and about 200 guests.
It was the first-ever White House
"Poetry Jam" -- an evening of poetry, music, and spoken word that
included legendary actor James Earl Jones (who read passages of Othello), writers Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, jazz pianist Eric Lewis, and spoken word performer Mayda Del Valle.
As part of her introductory remarks, Michelle Obama said of democracy, "It has room for lots of voices,
which sometimes take us out of our comfort zones, but that's what makes
it so meaningful."
here to celebrate the power of words and music," President Obama told
the guests, "to help us appreciate beauty, but also to understand pain,
to inspire us to action, and to spur us on when we start to lose hope."
"The hope," according to the White House blog
, "is that this evening's gathering
helps ensure that all voices are heard, particularly voices that are
often not heard."
As one of those voices, Joshua rose to the occasion with a particularly fitting piece: "Tamara's
Opus," an original poem about his own struggle to communicate with his deaf sister.
watch Tamara's Opus
Joshua, a financial aid recipient who majors in Africana Studies and English at Penn, has recently gained national acclaim as a veteran of HBO's Brave New Voices, a national teen poetry competition [what's a poetry slam?]. Representing "Team Philadelphia," Joshua and two fellow slammers from Penn -- Alysia Harris (a Weiss Scholarship student) and Aysha El Shamayleh -- were the 2007 champs of Brave New Voices.
watch their slams: Carbon Copy | That Girl | Cupid in a Cold War
"I want to leave an impression on people that Josh did it right," Joshua
says. "That's the legacy that I'm concerned with: How will people
remember you when you're gone?"
he enters his senior year at Penn, it seems Joshua has already
discovered part of the answer to that question. From his spoken-word
poem, "Carbon Copy":
| || when|
I pick up a pen
allowing my words to rocket through the air
like I was on a first name basis with the wind
and so long as it's cool with my father
I'll continue to believe
that the lights I write to every night
are coming from within him
the fireflies on his insides ...
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