In this article, Susan Weinstein and Anna West embark on a critical analysis of the maturing field of youth spoken word poetry (YSW). Through a blend of firsthand experience, analysis of YSW-related films and television, and interview data from six years of research, the authors identify specific dynamics that challenge young poets as they participate in YSW-related activities. Participants discuss the risks of being overly identified with the subject matter of the poems they perform, the tendency of some YSW communities to create a “star” system among youth poets, and the implications of the intensified public gaze trained on youth poets by growing media attention to YSW. Weinstein and West argue that risks and tensions are intrinsic to the nature of a deeply social youth arts context but that the field's long-term sustenance depends on all participants' willingness to have honest, ongoing discussions about such challenges.

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