The Spoken Word Movement in Alaska

Spoken Word is not a new art form, it is seen throughout history in the form of storytelling, oral history and song. Now Spoken Word is unraveling into an international movement, looking to promote the voices of the voiceless, focusing specifically on teens. The idea of Slam, a contest between spoken word poets, has revolutionized the movement further, drawing greater audiences, and proving that there are people in this world who care what teens think.

Nora Herzog at the October Qualifying Slam (2013-2014 season).
Nora Herzog at the October Qualifying Slam (2013-2014 season).

Yes, I realize it’s a cliche. Many adults seem under the impression that they do not need to listen to teens, and it’s true that many don’t understand the importance of letting teens make a contribution to the world’s future. However, that stereotype has disappeared for me. As I began to perform–making my way from Dessert First, to Out North, to the PAC, to Chicago–I realized that there are people who listen. Many more than I give credit to, and thousands more than I would have ever thought.

Spoken word isn’t about just performing, writing, and the occasional applause. Spoken word is about conveying yourself to other people. It’s about letting people see a little piece of you, enough to understand why you are saying what you say. When they have that personal piece, they listen. It’s about audience engagement, and passion, and dreams. When people see that you believe in yourself, they start to believe too. That connection is where we can begin to change the world.

It starts here. In Anchorage, Brave New Alaskan Voices is our non-profit organization where teens who want to perform, teens who wish they could perform, and teens who love to perform to cultivate their voices. Their goals are to recognize and highlight positive contributions, build bridges between generations, promote civic engagement, and create leaders. Through emphasizing communication and confidence, Brave New Alaskan Voices is able to create a safe space in which all poets can speak their minds, while maintaining responsibility for every syllable.

I and five other team members, as well as two coaches travelled with BNAV to Chicago in 2013 to participate in the International Spoken Word Festival. The experience was incredible, and opened my eyes to many different instances of new global perspectives. Though I read the paper and listen to the radio, there is never quite as much connection with a far-away or little-known tragedy as when the event and the emotions surrounding it are showcased in a spoken word performance. To me, there is something that is most beautiful, and most raw, about vocal expression; there is an element of truth to slam that makes every word carry weight. Different pieces mean different things to different people, but I honestly believe that you cannot walk away from a Slam without holding some element of that with you.

Because of everything that BNAV and Spoken Word have done for me, it is my wish to share my experiences, and hope that others can learn to understand and take part in spoken word. Honestly, I believe it is the swiftest way to understanding, as it does, by the very nature of Spoken Word, build bridges between generations. It is communication at it’s best and most effective.

Click to listen to Herzog perform “Devil’s Practice”:

Devil’s Practice

The next slams to qualify for BNAV Travel Team Quarterfinals are January 8th and February 12th, from 7:00-9:00pm at the Anchorage City Limits on the corner of 4th and Cst. Audience is just as important as competitors. Visit for more details.

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Nora Herzog is an Anchorage teen, a junior at West High School, and a member of the 2013 Brave New Alaskan Voices Slam Team. She discovered Spoken Word as an art form in middle school, but became inspired when she saw a Slam done by the 2012 BNAV team. She travelled to Chicago with five other members of BNAV last year to participate in Brave New Voices, the International Spoken Word Festival. Currently she is competing for a spot on the 2014 BNAV team, and is organizing an inter-school slam between Highland Tech, Homer Slam Team, Steller Secondary and West High. She hopes that soon Spoken Word will be a more recognized artistic opportunity for youth to express themselves through language.

See for more information on the Alaskan competing team.