Teen poet Obasi Davis geared up for Youth Speaks competition 

Obasi Davis is having a busy spring, having just completed baseball season on the freshman team at Berkeley High School — he pitched and played third base — and preparing for a big poetry slam at Davies Symphony Hall tonight.

“You have to be focused and be ready for anything,” Obasi says, comparing the disciplines. The 15-year-old is a finalist in the 15th annual Teen Poetry Slam presented by Youth Speaks, a national nonprofit that sponsors workshops and  education programs and presents poets ages 10 to 19 in spoken-word performances. Some 60 schools and 40,000 students have participated this year.

Obasi isn’t too nervous and is ready to perform the two three-­minute pieces he wrote, one about home issues (“stuff that happens in my life”), the other a metaphor about racial issues — and how people run away from them.

“The earlier you start, the more prepared you’ll be,” he says. “I work hard, I’ve been to workshops every week. I had a lot of people look over my poems.”

Among those who have guided him is his father, Hodari Davis, a teacher who has done hip-hop, and also a former Youth Speaks performer who is now the group’s program director.

But Obasi says his dad hasn’t had extraordinary involvement in his creative process. He doesn’t let his father read his poems until he performs them, and then, says Obasi, “He tells me what he thinks.”

For Obasi, the most difficult part of the task is writing, coming up with a new topic and a new way to address familiar themes.

It takes him about a month to write a piece, something he finds an ultimately rewarding task.

Today’s finals will result in one grand slam champion, but the top six performers will go on to an international competition called Brave New Voices, which is in San Francisco from July 19-23 this year.

While he calls his activities with Youth Speaks a fun experience  (“it’s chill”), Obasi remains focused on the competitive aspect as well.

“You get a lot of recognition, you get a lot of gigs,” he says, adding that spoken-word performance is “definitely something” he’d consider doing as a profession.



Youth Speaks Grand Slam Finals

Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 7 p.m. today
Tickets: $18 to $50
Contact: (415) 392-4400, www.cityboxoffice.com, www.youthspeaks.org

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Leslie Katz

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