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.


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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