Arts Desk

At Split This Rock, a Local High-Schooler Channels Buddha, Tupac, and Leonard Cohen

dorseyAllah is drinking coffee. Jesus is switching lines at L’Enfant. Me and Buddha ride.

Throaty voice, Mohawked braids, her right hand conducting an invisible orchestra:  Diamante Dorsey has the stage.

The audience claps at every pause and shouts her lines right back. They like their gods on U Street, paired with sex, cozying up in the Langston Hughes room.

“I kind of use that shock thing to my advantage, but it’s also my downfall,” she said after performing at Busboys and Poets on Wednesday.

A high school senior at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Dorsey is a contender at Saturday’s D.C. Youth Poetry Slam, part of the Split This Rock Poetry Festival.

The event, presented by the poet Jeffrey McDaniel at Bell Multicultural High School, determines which of D.C.’s young poets will fly to Los Angeles this summer for the national Brave New Voices competition.

At this weekend's contest, judges score the slam poets on their delivery, which can mean angry rapping or soothing lullabies, as well as the content and writing of the poems.

Dorsey is reciting three poems that she picked for their variety in emotion and delivery. But she maintains that slamming has little to do with organized competition, recalling the poets at last year’s Brave New Voices who purposefully received penalties to throw off the system.

Rebellion seems to translate to bonus points in the slam culture, historically based on political and social commentary and defiance.

“Even if they are troublemakers in school or on streets, within our community they are different, they are respected,” says Meghan Harrigan, a poet who served as a D.C. Youth Poetry Slam coach.

She said disadvantaged youth have a harder time being vulnerable with their poetry, but that the art is transformative. Harrigan finds it much easier to teach students who recognize their creative expression. “There’s a bigger light in them,” she says.

Raised near the Bolling Air Force base to a single mother, Dorsey writes poems that often reflect a harder side: an unpretty train ride or an emotional journey. But they carry little self-pity—especially given her supportive mom, whom she calls her “agent.”

For inspiration, Dorsey often turns to music: Alice in Chains, MF DOOM, and her personal favorite, Leonard Cohen.

“That dude is beast,” Dorsey said Wednesday. “I look in his CD pamphlet for answers like somebody would go to the bible.”

She first found inspiration to write poetry in the late rapper Tupac Shakur. Imagining herself as the best female hip-hop MC, Dorsey started to test her rhymes on her friends at lunch. Now she estimates that 90 percent of her time is spent thinking about, writing, rehearsing, and planning her slams. Instead of studying books, she wrote her own chat book, a self-made collection of poems called Baby With a Shotgun. Instead of applying to colleges, Dorsey networks her way to coffee shops and microphones, supported by local groups Sol y Soul and the Shakti Brigade.

“I don’t want to be a poet who sharpens pencils in the cubicle,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Meghan Harrigan.
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  • Serenity

    I love Diamante!

    Her writing is so sick, it eats at my soul, but it's so real that my soul is reborn.

    That's writing, man.

  • Brittany

    Wow, great writing. I also love this young poet! keep up the good work :)

  • Michael

    Diamante Dorsey is sensational! Her work will lyrically devastate your conscience and make you laugh at your own ignorance. She creates realities and invites you to enter them at your own risk. It's new, it's refreshing, it's so Diamante! And I love it!

  • Reggie

    Diamante Dorsey is an awesome performer, one of the best I know she slams like no one else.

  • http://google JANET


  • Kapryce Ladson

    Diamante is one of the most thought-provoking and innovative writers I know. There is noone in the DMV area that I know that has quite the point of view about the world and the things that manifest in it quite like Diamante, and she lets that show in her writing. Keep it up poet!

  • Kenrick Scott

    Diamante's writing is insightful and fresh! Much different from anything else out there. She's extremely creative and obviously passionate about what she does. I'm sooooo inpressed! keep up the good work Dia!!!!

  • Juan

    Thank you Diamante for restoring my faith in the future of DC Arts. Your witty and riveting lyricism embodies the energy, zeal and passion of your generation, which has been needed and sorely missed for far too long. Ms. Dorsey, DC75 and it's affiliates SALUTE YOU for your willingness to share your art with us and the world.We anticipate great things from you and can't wait to chronicle your ascension to higher heights....
    Health, Strength & Guidance...Wiz-One

  • Diamond

    Diamante Dorsey is a awesome writer....I think her poetry is the best I ever heard.I would like to hear more from hear.....

  • Apocalypse

    One of the greatest writers to put pen to page. She brings soul to everything she writes. Wise beyond her years and intelligent beyond belief. She speaks and writes out of this world, God blessed her with a beautiful gift!

  • Robert Daniels

    To be young and so insightful is truly a blessing. You are a God sent talent. You are in a category all your own as far as using the pen to bring life to your thoughts and light to the world. Keep using your gift, your gift does something great for all who come in contact with it.

  • Selah

    IMMACULATE CONCEPTION!!!!!.....i've seen some of Diamante's work in the past and look foward to seeing more of her in the future......Much Love,Great Job!

  • Willie Joe

    I witnessed this young lady do an impromptu performance on the metro bus. She is AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!

  • Daniel F.

    It's great to see the slam culture growing in the district. And with young poets like Diamante doing there thing it's only bound to expand. The poetry community in DC salutes you! also...a well written article.

  • Boi Tanka

    one word...Diamante! XD