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Ken Arkind and Minor Disturbance rep Denver in HBO's Brave New Voices

This is what Ken Arkind's "brave voice" looks like.
This is what Ken Arkind's "brave voice" looks like.

Young poets from Denver's slam poetry scene have taken their words and images far beyond the confines of the city. The HBO special Brave New Voices premiered this week and featured performances from Minor Disturbance, Denver's very own youth Slam Team led by Ken Arkind. The special, co-produced by hip-hop maven Russell Simmons and featuring hosts Rosario Dawson and Common, follows the 2010 National Slam Team championships in L.A.

Arkind, who was in New York last week for the formal premiere, said the Denver team's appearance alongside crews from New York, Albuquerque and California's Bay Area was a major accomplishment for the local scene.

"I think its important for Denver," Arkind said via e-mail. "It could bring a lot of hope to some of the young folks in Denver. The truth is that the Denver team made Slam history in a way that no adult team ever has."

For all of the local significance of the special, which will run on HBO through next month, there doesn't seem to be an overwhelming amount of support from the network brass. Arkind, who helped lead the Minor Disturbance team to a fourth-place slot in the global competition earlier this year, said promotion from HBO for the special has been somewhat lacking.

"[The producers] were talking about how HBO really isn't doing much hype for it," Arkind said from New York last week after attending the red carpet premiere. "I'm getting some insight. There doesn't seem to be a lot of press for it. HBO isn't really backing it up."

Be that as it may, HBO has posted poems from Jose Guerro, Eli Lynch, Dominique Sample, Kyle Sutherland, Libby Howard and Elizabeth Cheever on the special's website.

Here's a sample of the Denver team's HBO input. The poem "Sweatshop" was written by Jose Guerro and Eli Lynch.

 

"Sweatshop"

I remember waking up and her already being gone She would catch the ruta before the sun and arrive home after dawn Being awake that early in Juarez can be dangerous for a woman She always lied and said she was a fashion designer but in reality she spent long hours Sewing holes in designer jeans that her children would never wear The Maquiladora swallowed her and she just became part of the machine

Slavery is the epitome of capitalism A system built on inequality for some to taste this kind of excess Others have to live in poverty So this is not some unfortunate side effect of a society built in the image of a pyramid it is the purpose

Every step you take was made comfortable at someone else's expense It's easy to point your fingers at CEO's and foreman But the shirt on your back puts a weight on your shoulders

How did we allow the earth to become so lopsided? The world's axis is tilting but we are standing still

The key to our obedience is a thirst for possessions Cause they've got us so conditioned that we purchase our oppression Now we've all switched to high definition deception

If the purpose of Democracy is to ensure equality but money equals power then there in no room for poverty

And capitalists thrive on separate classes so they're opposed to this So it's impossible for Capitalism and Democracy to coexist Socialists and independent journalists have noticed this But the TV won't tell you that, cause the real enemy owns that shit

So they control the information, economic weaponry So we fight among ourselves and never ask "who's the enemy?"

Ninety percent of the wealth is owned by less than 10 percent of the populous It would seem then that the answer to this question would be obvious The problems also own the media on top of this And News Corp is consumed by two thirds of the world's audience And they literally went to court to defend their right to lie to the public There's no way to speak out, they'll disconnect your mic if you try and discuss it So why aren't people disgusted? The equation can't equal getting mad if An untainted source of information is subtracted So the First Amendment's lost if they pretend that being honest Isn't necessary if it starts infringing on the profits Information's disregarded for more profitable topics But they own the information box so there's no way to stop it

It's not just the NEWS My mind has been swooshed with images of success

From a glistening Michael Jordan dunking on giants with ease To a series of soccer getting players crossed and statues of Cristiano Rinaldo rising And I've been told these moments were brought to me by shoes

When Nikes are worn by legends they become symbols of national pride Which makes me wonder, who built them? Who has blisters on their hands so our heroes don't blister on their toes These logos are nothing to be proud of Because the slaves were not freed just outsourced

A knight is nothing without a blacksmith So why do athletes hoard the glory of glamorous commercial montages If they were still burdened by honesty surely this sweat wouldn't be the color of Gatorade The stars would be tired to run Fingers too blistered to dunk

But if a knight is nothing without a blacksmith Then these slaves are responsible for these victories too

They were never blessed with body armor so Nike swooshes whipped exposed backs scarring them with Adidas stripes like Just Do It They reached for Converse Stars but couldn't get enough air Jordan's laces pulled them back into slavery

They've sewed tongues into your shoes rendering them voiceless Having trouble swallowing their malnutrition Have you ever wondered whose soul you're walking on?

They are the souls that sew your sols The little feat that fill big shoes The weary backs that hold the globe The little hands that stitch the world

And they've been feeding us propaganda since our conception But we paid for it We asked them to lie to us So when establishing your personality with logos When wearing your poverty like a badge Never mistake yourself for the oppressed

We are the Monsters We are the cogs that keep the world spinning tilted We too, have been swallowed by the machine


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