The flow of poetry–its complex use of rhythm and rhymes, the interplay of vision and voice–weaves throughout the lives of the students in Louder Than a Bomb, a strong yet gentle documentary that follows four high school poetry teams as they prepare to compete in the world’s largest youth poetry slam, Louder Than a Bomb, held annually in Chicago. Directed and produced by Jon Siskel and tonight’s guest Greg Jacobs, Louder Than a Bomb shows the power of the word, spoken and written, to transform lives.

The team from Steinmetz, an inner city school, is competing for only the second year, defending their winning title against 60 other schools and 600 students.  Teams perform both as a group and as individuals, so the pressure is on for the Steinmenauts, as they call themselves, when team members lose focus during writing and rehearsal sessions. Meanwhile another competitor, Nova Venerable, is crafting pieces about her severely disabled brother and absent father, while Nate Marshall who has competed for six years without winning, develops poems full of wit and yearning. Adam Gottlieb, a privileged kid whose life is so different from the others profiled, shines with grace.

Louder Than a Bomb shows, without preaching, the importance, the necessity, of providing students with arts education, allowing them their own voices while developing literacy and cultural fluency. And most importantly, the poetry slam competition gives students from all areas of the city a chance to meet and hear each other–to realize their shared experiences and emotions, and to develop respect for each other and themselves.