Representing Baton Rouge in October 2014, California-born poet Desiree Dallagiacomo placed third at the Individual World Poetry Slam. In March, she also placed third at the Women of the World Poetry Slam. Now, she will pay homage to the next generation of poets in the capital city — the place she calls her poetry hometown — as the featured poet at Forward Arts’ 9th Annual ALL CITY Teen Poetry Slam Festival Grand Slam Finals.
“I keep thinking about the phrase hometown hero, which is cheesy, but to think that I get to give back in a way, I feel excited,” Dallagiacomo said.
A poetry slam is an Olympic-style poetry competition where poets are judged on the written and performance merit of original compositions. The five-day festival for youth poets ages 13-19 began April 30 and included writing and performance workshops, community-building activities and preliminary bouts (competition). The Grand Slam Finals night will feature the top four teams and six individuals from the preliminary bouts.
Dallagiacomo has been an annual volunteer at the festival from the time she was 19, still young enough to have competed herself. And while she only became involved in poetry slam in her early adulthood, she began seriously writing when she was 13. These letters to her imprisoned brother would be the over-arching event leading to her crafting the personal narrative-based poetry for which she is known, for which she has so many accolades, including YouTube videos with more than 400,000 views.
“I know I’ll have to perform ‘Thighs’,” Dallagiacomo said laughing, in regards to her YouTube sensation of a poem. “Wherever I go, whenever I start that poem, there is an uproarious applause or something and then I feel like — everyone knows the punch line to this joke and I have to continue as if no one has heard it before.”
‘Thighs’ is a satirical personification of Dallagiacomo’s own thighs — a piece to introduce body positivity and shun rape culture. While she isn’t the only area poet presenting these types of messages, Dallagiacomo deflects to the youth of Forward Arts, who she said present all of the narratives that are missing from Baton Rouge’s adult poets.
“I feel like our community has done a really great job at fostering our young people’s voices,” she said. “I feel like the young women are so strong on this [youth] scene and we have such great male role models in this city that our young men are so prepared to show up for queer young people, people of color, women, differently-abled people — everyone is like, ‘How much farther can we take these skills that we have?”
Dallagiacomo said that the poems of the youth poets aren’t your average love stories, but they are expertly crafted pieces referencing everything from social change, rape and assault, to mental health and healing. And so while she may have the spotlight, Saturday’s main event will be the students. They are ultimately competing for the opportunity to be a part of the winning team and/or to be a member of the All Star slam team, who will travel to the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Festival this July in Atlanta, with Dallagiacomo as their head coach.
Schools and youth groups that were selected (via preliminary bouts) to continue competition as teams or individual competitors at Grand Slam Finals are Dutchtown High School, Young Life (Baton Rouge), Baton Rouge Magnet High School, McKinley High School, Baton Rouge Youth Coalition, East Feliciana High School, Broadmoor High School, Lee High School and Episcopal High School.
“Baton Rouge young people are remarkable,” she said. “They’re writing what’s important to them and they’re doing it well, beautifully, intelligently and in ways that make me gasp. ALL CITY is truly a show of young people presenting their truth in a way that we as adults are so disconnected from.”
Other Grand Slam Finals features will be the presentation of the Coaches Award, given to an outstanding team mentor/sponsor, this year a dual award for MSA Academy’s Emily Weathers and La. School for the Deaf’s Lisa Cook; The Spirit of the Slam Award, given to a team whose participation far exceeded a competitive nature, this year to Precious Diamonds Mentoring program; the Sue Weinstein Excellence in Volunteerism Award, given to an individual who has dedicated volunteer services to Forward Arts throughout the year; and the Page Presence Award, given to a student who exhibits exemplary written work.