Our Youth

Poetry Alive and Kicking

Standing on the same stage once occupied by Billy Holiday and Michael Jackson, a junior from St. Saviour H.S., Park Slope, poured herself out for her audience during a spoken word competition for teens in Harlem.


“It was absolutely surreal,” Abigail Russell said. “It was not even a dream come true because I never phantomed being able to preform at the Apollo.”

Although this was the culmination of two years work for Russell, she said she was not nervous.

“When I’m on stage I can get all my emotion in my poetry,” she said. “I’m a performer at heart, so it works.”

The young poet said that her interest in spoken word started by watching videos on YouTube. So when her friends invited her to a poetry workshop at Urban Word in 2012, she was happy to join them.

Urban Word NYC provides free writing workshops to teens and its mission is to champion the uncensored voice of the youth.

It was through this program, Russell said, that the world of poetry became real to her. In English class she often read poetry by long dead poets, but Urban Word helped her realize that poetry is not only alive, but thriving in the modern world.

She also realized that poetry is so much more than putting words together in prose.

“Poetry is about telling the truth,” she said.

She said that spoken word can help both the performers and the audience comes to a deeper understanding of life. Russell said listening to others speak their hearts has changed her life.

“It makes me want to be a better person when people tell me their life story in a few stanzas,” she said. “I’ve learned many things about myself and the world.”

Although she did not win the competition at the Apollo, Russell said she enjoyed every moment of it.

“I just felt very blessed the entire time, from singing up for the slam to performing on stage – I just felt blessed,” she said.

Although her writing is not strictly religious, she said she tries to put all of herself into it, including her religious beliefs. In the poem she performed at the Apollo Theater, A Balancing Act, she used Crucifixion imagery to describe the adultery of weight loss obsession.

The rising senior said she hopes to eventually publish a poetry book. To see her perform go to youtu.be/a4PWf-JaOcI or search for A Balancing Act by Abigail Russell. For information about Urban Word NYC, visit www.urbanwordnyc.org

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