Jordan W. Barrow and Matt Edwards’ documentary, Our Word Collide, shines a colorful spotlight on five teen poets looking to share their experiences and struggles through “spoken word” poetry, specifically slam poetry. The poets participated in the 2019-2020 Get Lit program, an LA non-profit organization dedicated to educating and empowering young people through poetry.
The participants include Tyris Winter, a queer black teen born into an abusive household. He speaks directly about issues of identity and trauma. Jason Alvarez lives in the hood, where joining a gang is the key to survival. Through his poetry, he wants to show that good can come from the hood. Virginia Villalta comes from a Mexican immigrant family. Her mother struggled to survive to provide Virginia and her family with a good life. She, in turn, honors that struggle and keeps immigration issues at the forefront. Cassady Lopez loves to write poetry much more than perform it. Like Virginia, she is also of Latin heritage, and in her heart are themes of living with a disability and controlling her life’s narrative. Finally, Amari Turner is driven by personal success. She is studious and competitive while striving to be at the top of her class. But this drive comes with both advantages and disadvantages.
As someone who’s not particularly drawn to poetry, I’ve always found “spoken word” poetry to be the most accessible and poignant of the art form. The poetry in Our Words Collide is no different. It’s composed beautifully and performed passionately by each poet. Their voices, mannerisms, and experiences lend each their distinctive presentations.
“…shines a colorful spotlight on five teen poets looking to share their experiences and struggles…”
There are essentially three elements to the documentary. The most obvious are the performances. Directors Barrow and Edwards chose to give them a little bit of production value in that the poets are placed on an empty stage with a textured background and a spotlight. Then, with each recitation, it’s just us and the artist — simple, straightforward, and powerful.
Second are talking head interviews with each poet about their families, hopes, and dreams. They’re insightful, speaking to the topic of identity and expression, becoming an adult, and battles with depression and anxiety. Lastly, the cameras follow each poet through their senior year of high school, which was rudely interrupted by a pandemic. Through heartbreaking self-check-ins, they describe their feelings about isolation.
What Our Words Collide does so well present five students worth rooting for in life. They are articulate, reflective about their transition into adulthood, and expressive, considering the majority of them are very much introverted until they step on the stage. While spoken word and slam poetry is not everyone’s cup of tea, the film quickly gets you into the world of spoken word poetry. If anything, it’s worth opening our world to poetry as art and understanding the experiences and frustrations of our youth today.
For more information on Our Worlds Collide, visit its official site.
"…insightful speaking to the topic of identity and expression, becoming an adult, and battles with depression and anxiety."