As an English teacher, Megan Goeden receives lots of promotional material every week for projects that could enhance the educational experience of her students at Hartington-Newcastle High School.
When the brochure for the “Louder Than a Bomb” Great Plains Youth Poetry Festival crossed Goeden’s desk, she was intrigued.
“I put it up on the board, talked to the students about the project and, amazingly, 10 students were interested,” Goeden said.
It became a voluntary activity, outside of the regular school day. Eight students competed at the Omaha event last spring.
The project was started in 2001 in Chicago by Young Chicago Authors. Project leaders describe the event as an effort, “to bring teens together across racial, gang, and socio-economic lines. Louder Than a Bomb is a friendly competition that emphasizes self-expression and community via poetry, oral story-telling, and hip-hop spoken word.”
In 2011 the Nebraska Writers Collective brought the program to Omaha and 12 schools participated. Today, students from 42 Nebraska and Iowa high schools write poetry and prose for the performance — all on their own time.
Not only is it developing Nebraska artistic talents, but it is also keeping them here by providing paid work opportunities for the area poets.
“The emphasis is on appreciation for each individual piece of work and performance,” Goeden said. “The pieces are completely original for each student and limited to 15 minutes.”
At its first performance in the Youth Poetry Festival last spring, the Hartington-Newcastle chapter won second and third places in Lincoln.
When school started this fall, Goeden offered the activity again and was excited to see students return from last year and add some new ones.
As the team’s sponsor, she encourages them to journal and work on material, building to the 2018 festival next spring. The second-year teacher in Hartington acts as a sounding board, listening to the works the students create and offering feedback.
The Nebraska Writers Collective also offers professionals who have experience in theater and written art to come talk to the students when it gets closer to a performance and work with the students to perfect their performance.
The festival is not a competition. The emphasis on Louder Than a Bomb is a way for teenagers to voice feelings and thoughts. Some are funny, while others are much more serious.
“Young people are aspiring to be artists and want people to see there are artists in small towns just like the big cities and they are valuable,” Goeden said.