This review is written just in time for National Poetry Month, which is April of every year.
To throw a bit of personal experience into this review, I have to say first and foremost that poetry has been of vital importance in my life, serving as a non-judgmental outlet when I had nowhere else to turn to. Through the positive and the negative, it provided the storytelling framework for me, a struggling individual, to share my stories, without judgment.
Louder Than A Bomb, by Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel, documents the Louder Than A Bomb high school poetry slam, an event which takes place in Chicago every March. Over six hundred students from throughout the city participate in the event annually, hailing from massively different backgrounds. Yet, all of them are linked by their love for writing and performing, all of them finding in poetry a very real sense of community.
Highlighted in the documentary are four schools with widely different profiles, teaching styles, and economic backgrounds, but all had placed in the previous year’s competition. Louder Than A Bomb follows the entire process of the poetry slam and each team as it prepares, but focuses more closely upon four students, in particular:
Lamar “The Truth” Jordan (Steinmetz)
Coming from a school full of largely “atypical” slam poets — lower-income, largely African-American youth, Jordan finds in poetry a source of pride. He begins the film, saying, “When I was coming up, I was a bit of a troublemaker, and I did some things I regret. I would like damage a lot of things in my house, but my father never cried about that. When I got arrested, my father didn’t cry about that. First time I made my father cry, was the first time he heard me perform poetry.”
Novana Venerable (Oak Park And River Forest)
Despite growing up in suburban Chicago, Venerable is not without her family problems, and poetry helps her manage the difficult emotions that come associated with childhood trauma. She has not spoken to her father since she was twelve and often plays mother to a younger brother with a host of physical and mental problems. Though she says early on in the film that she “would choke people” and “stab people with pencils” when she first entered high school, Venerable later explains, “My life just sort of seemed to fit when I started writing.”
Nate Marshall (Whitney Young Magnet)
Nate Marshall is from south Chicago, so far south that the L train doesn’t even run there. Poetry has been his number one passion, and he has been involved with it for longer than any other student featured in the documentary. In one of his slam poems, he reveals just how important the artform is to him, saying, “But a mic, a stage, a pen, a page helped end my rage and mend my ways. So I’ll admit, I’ve been afraid of leaving this, cause when I stayed, I found my voice, but now my time is up.”
Adam Gottleib (Northside College Prep)
Unlike many of the other slam poets, Gottleib comes from a privileged background, but still inspires respect from all for his positive, inspiring poetry. His coach testifies that, “He really thinks and wants there to be a better world, and he lives that better world.”
Through personal accounts, competition footage, and interviews with a broad range of individuals, Louder Than A Bomb highlights how poetry and writing surpass socioeconomic and personal boundaries to find their important places in the hearts of many. Poetry is more than a basic hobby for many of these students; it is a basic form of communication; it feeds the uncontrollable need for the words to explode out of their hearts and onto the paper.
I will close this review with a quote from Gottleib, which captures the essence of the film: “Writing a poem does not change the world. Learning about new people, and understanding new people, and really feeling inspired by people who are very different from you — I’d like to say that that is changing the world. And if not, it’s definitely coming much, much closer.”
New York City, NY — Opens May 18 — IFC Center
Seattle, WA — May 6-12 — SIFF Cinema
Columbus, OH — May 13-19 — Drexel Theatre
Chicago, IL — May 20-26 — Gene Siskel Film Center
Boston, MA — Opens June 3 — Coolidge Corner Theatre
Palm Springs, CA — Opens June 3 — Camelot Theaters
Washington, D.C. — Opens June 10 — The West End Cinema
Portland, OR — Opens June 10 — Living Room Theatres
Salem, MA — Opens June 17 — CinemaSalem
Rochester, NY — April 30, May 1 — 360|365 George Eastman House Film Festival
Champaign, IL — May 1 — Ebertfest
Vancouver, BC — May 6, 11 — DOXA Documentary Film Festival
Salem, MA — May 13-14 — Massachusetts Poetry Festival