Category Archives: Open Mic Wrap-Ups

The Magic of Open Mic Poetry, pt. 2: How We Got Started

19388376_10207397593777879_2251431963726536251_o.jpgI adore open mics & view them as religious experiences. Sometimes, I tell people I’m “going to church” when I’m going to a poetry show. I began attending open mics and poetry slams when I was sixteen years old, but a few years later, after I began living in Charleston and attending college there, I joined forces with another poet to start our very own open mic. These days, we have a robust following and access to a variety of unique venues; often our crowds surpass one-hundred-twenty bodies, and the events have only grown more successful.

In fact, the Charleston Poets team, in conjunction with many other literary groups, are organizing Charleston first ever poetry festival called Free Verse, which will take place in October 12th-17th. But we didn’t become kick-ass organizers overnight. freeverselogo.jpgWe had to first leap through hoops of fire, bound across rivers populated with vicious crocodiles, and climb the Aggro Crag (Aye, Nickelodeon references up in here).

348s.jpgIn November 2013, I arrived at King Dusko in Charleston, SC with palms sweat-slick and voice hoarse from practicing a new poem. My co-host and I arrived an hour early to an empty bar. The venue was bizarre—a large space populated with plush sofas and splintered kitchen chairs, walls decorated in local art works and scribbles of Sharpie graffiti. A small television sat near the entrance, a Nintendo 64 resting at its base. I asked the bartender whether or not they had a microphone, and she laughed. She told me she wasn’t aware there would be an poetry event that evening. My co-host was a years older than me, but still young. I was just nineteen. We hardly knew each other, but would grow to be close friends after we embarked on a new adventure—starting our own poetry open mic series.

10168230_764257590275204_5382170599314782496_nIt is difficult to conjure the details of the early days of The Unspoken Word. It sprung from our heads, like Athena, in the courtyard of a nearby coffee shop. The first few events were strange and under-attended: ten people crammed into the back of King Dusko, sharing work scribbled onto napkins and the backs of class notes. Meanwhile, patrons at the bar loudly discussed sports & break-ups & religion.

Starting our own poetry open mic series was tough. We spent the first month finding a venue, rejected again and again from different bars or cafes. Several had hosted poetry series in the past and viewed them as inherently unprofitable. Who wanted to hang out in a coffee house courtyard while a couple of poetic weirdos recited long untranslatable Latin verse? But we were aiming to bring a new spin to the open mic– we wanted the open mic to be a party, a “happening,” an event that could bridge gaps between strangers.

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We also struggled with building a stable audience. Each week brought a fresh crop of faces– while at one event, an array of punk accapella pieces, the next month a series of slam poet performances. We did not necessarily possesses a steady voice as an organization, which prompted our poetry series to morph, adapt. We became an open space for what poets might want to bring. The secret, then, to creating a consistent audience is to invest both in the poets and the spectators. Some open mic hosts ignore the poets who come speak on their microphone, merely names on the list, but a good host should take time outside of events to get to know the poets who read. This engenders a real community and commitment to the poets’ growth, meaning as the open mic series becomes more established, so too do the poets grow more confident.

Early events included Ode to Hip Hop, Confessions Night, and Rhymes and Lovers. In March 2013, we held their first Holy City Slam at the College of Charleston Stern Center Ballroom.

We noticed something different about their poetry events. These were no polite events, 10954536_925279484173013_1441027269615286283_nat which stifled voices mumbled poetry from behind pages. The poetry was loud and energetic, striking at something alive, pulsing. The hosts encouraged a loose environment, in which shouting out encouragements and snapping one’s fingers were encouraged. We sought to create a democratic space for poetry where readers were confident to share their work—inspiring the motto Leave No Word Unspoken. Here, in this crowded, noisy room full of tipsy artists, poetry became something entirely new—fun!

After seven months,my co-founder AJ Johnson left for Atlanta, GA to pursue his career, 1394475_10200979056822040_461340561_nand Unspoken Word regular Matthew Foley stepped into a leadership role. Foley had been hosting an open mic in West Ashley’s Avondale neighborhood called Poetry Night @ 827. Marcus Amaker, longtime poet-graphic-designer-beat-maker-musician-extraordinaire became more and more involved, collaborating with Unspoken via Charleston Poets. In summer 2014, Unspoken Word regulars and poets from around the city collaborated for the Word Perfect Poetry Show at the Charleston Music Hall.

In 2015, King Dusko closed, prompting The Unspoken Word to move to a new venue. It found two new homes in Elliotborough MiniBar and Pure Theater, where it held open mics and poetry slams respectively. Throughout 2016, The Unspoken Word expanded to various other venues such as Harold’s Cabin and Eclectic Café. Local poets began also to take part in Typewriter Poetry sessions on Saturday mornings at the Charleston Farmer’s Market. Today, the Unspoken Word operates primarily out of Eclectic Café & Vinyl on Spring Street.

Each second Friday of the month, we return because we have built something lasting. We have developed not only a poetry open mic but a true community of wordsmiths who hope, in coming together to speak on the mic, will spin out of our words something new and transcendent, a sort of monthly church at which we can worship.

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The Magic of Open Mic Poetry: Why We Should Support Open Mics, Even When We’ve “Outgrown” Them

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Cred: Marlanda Dekine

Go ahead, light a candle. Take the shot of tequila. Or espresso. Strap on the gladiator heels. Slip a notebook into your purse or tote or pocket. Get nervous, maybe, heart-sweaty. Sneak into the restroom and practice in front of the mirror. Rehearse standing still, holding your hands by your side so they will not dance with abandon. Go out and meet the others. Dap and pound and hug and shake hands and kiss cheeks. Greet the poets, the temporary saints of whatever cafe or church or dive bar where you will worship. When there remain spaces to sit, sit. If not, remain standing. Keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times. This is no place for golf claps or appreciative murmuring, but rather the noise that bodies only ever make in celebration or orgasm.

This is an open mic poetry night in Charleston, South Carolina.

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Cred: Marlanda Dekine

There is something holy about sharing oneself on stage. Whether we share our trauma or our joy, our stories or our songs, our blessings or our forgiveness, poetry becomes a burden we share. Every second Friday of the month, I travel back to Charleston, SC to attend Poetry Night at Eclectic Café. Half of those weeks, I take on hosting duties, by now a reflexive role. Step onto stage, start telling a few jokes. Introduce the poets, get out of the way. Sometimes planning open mic nights becomes stressful, especially the search for suitable featured poets who perform in the midpoint of the evening a thirty to forty minute set. Poets, young and old, arrive before seven o’clock, and they—some with extreme trepidation—sign their names onto The List.

What is routine is also in a way a ritual. Although I no longer attend any church or religious institution, I attend open mics with a serious devotion. Sometimes I even jokingly refer to the stage as the pulpit. The poets & musicians, the monologue-practitioners & amateur comedians, they bring with them a special kind of magic that transforms every room into a sanctuary.

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Cred: Marlanda Dekine

The venue itself is beautiful—these days we perform at Eclectic Café, a café-restaurant-vinyl store-performance space-hybrid. But the venue has changed countless times throughout the years, and yet the spirit remains the same.

It has always surprised me to hear poets discuss poetry that engages the world as if there exists any other kind of poetry. Some poets scoff at the notion that poetry might be anything other than esoteric, that it might consider politics, culture, race, class, and local issues, and yet these too are worthy of our attention. Perhaps more-so than flowers and the belly-button-gazing self. Open mic poetry typically speaks to the world directly.

But there persists a staunch elitism, especially among academic poets, concerning open mics. They claim that open mic nights inevitably procure mediocre and uncomplicated poetry, and that listening to “bad” poetry is a waste of their time. And yes, after hosting poetry shows for four years, I have certainly listened to my fair share of poorly-written verse, but the point of poetry is not to create some unassailable and unsurmountable

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Cred: Marlanda Dekine

body of work. There’s a sense in the broader poetry world that open mics exist only for amateurs, that a professional poet’s words must be read in hallowed halls, in libraries.

Poetry, when read out loud, demands our attention. It demands we take seriously what the poet has to say. Of course there exists beautiful poetry that exists for its own sake—to be beautiful, to be transcendent. But poetry too is a tool of communication. Although I rapaciously consume new books of poetry every month, I understand the majority of the reading public does not actually read poetry.

 

Let me repeat that—the majority of the public that reads generally do not invest time in reading poetry. Which is, I know, a detriment—reading and considering poetry leads one to leave a more rich life. But how should we expect average people to engage with poetry when we keep it in a high tower, when we publish it in obscure literary magazines. Even the most well-respected literary journals do not reach the ears of what one might term “the average person.”

Instead, we must bring poetry to the people. Open mics are the public spaces through

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Cred: Marlanda Dekine

which we share our love for poetry. Perhaps the first-time poet will read a poem you find dull or poorly written, but then is it not in your interest—in the interest of capital-P Poetry—to invest in that person? To encourage that person to continue writing and write then something transcendent and challenging?

Open Mics become venues to vent frustration, to celebrate triumphs, to express rage, to critique social practices, to build community. Every time someone unloads their worries into a microphone, we must share that burden. That story becomes not only something insular but something that may exist outside of the person, carried on the shoulders of dozens of strangers. Because here’s a hard and strange truth.

Four years ago, I started The Unspoken Word with a fellow poet at an odd dive bar called King Dusko. I have since attended hundreds of poetry shows throughout the country and even some around the world. Of course seeing your favorite poet read can be a sublime experience, but so too might be watching an amateur poet. A fifteen year old trembling at the microphone, holding in her hands a crumpled sheet of notebook paper, and on that paper is a poem. A poem that might tonight change your life or change your mind or change for a moment your perspective.

In this way, poetry allows us not only to emphasize with our fellow Earthlings but grasp their shoulders afterward, to commune with poets in your city. To say thank you.

Literary Adventures Come More Frequently Lately

This week has been so far incredible, and now I’m gearing up for a slightly quieter week of writing and editing and putting my head down so that the copy-edit of the final draft of The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County can be finished.

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I got a poem published in RiverSedge, a lit journal based out of the Texas-Pan American Press. I will update on which poem got published once the journal is released.

Recently, I also received publication in The Southern Tablet. You can read my poem here: When You’re Sixteen In a Small Southern Town. It’s a fun poem about childhood and growing up, which is probably one of my favorite non-slam poems I’ve written recently.

On Saturday, I got the honor of being in my hometown newspaper The Aiken Standard. Entertainment writer Stephanie Turner penned an awesome feature about my first novel, my burgeoning poetry career, and my creative process. I was very happy at work that morning as several people approached me, having recognized my picture from the article. It’s been an interesting summer in Aiken, SC, because I always felt like in Charleston, people know me as a writer and in Aiken, people don’t know me as anything. But that is starting to change, and I hope only I can remain humbled and grateful about the opportunities afforded to me.

Read the Article here: Aiken Poet Completes First Novel.

Poetry, too, has blessed me this week with an incredible energy. On Wednesday night, Nova (a fellow poet and my significant other) and myself drove up to Greenville, SC to compete in a small slam hosted by Moody Black. I was happy to catch up with my poet family, especially one brother who is about to join the Navy. The event stoked my love for the spoken word art form and taught me just a little bit more about the competitive side of poetry. Check out the slam winner Annie Lee, picture below.

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The very next evening, I attended an open mic at MAD Studios in Augusta. I have featured here before and love the venue. This week, Bilaal Muhammed blessed us with some poetry. Augusta Poet Laureate SleepyEyez Carter was instrumental in bringing out many of the city’s poets and performers for an evening of high-energy love. During that evening, I learned that both Sleepy and Brotha Trav (the previous poet laureate) were heading to Atlanta on Saturday.

I called to ask if I could tag along. I performed as the spotlight poet at Urban Grind’s “Do You Lyric Lounge?” I also got invited back next year on August 2015 to perform as the feature. I am slowly building up a calendar for 2015, based around the same time my book will be released!

On top of all this great news, Germany won the WORLD CUP. I celebrated by buying some new books. In the coming week, I’m going to start blogging more frequently so I can give more full thoughts on the events and happenings I’m experiencing. On July 22nd there will be the Holy City Slam in Charleston (hosted by myself and Matthew Foley) which I will blog about before it happens. Also, we are having a small poet’s party tomorrow evening at a local pool– The Poetry Potluck! The other big news is the Word Perfect show in Charleston on August 14th, which will take place at the Charleston Music Hall.

 

Thanks for the Night, Mind Gravy!

Last night I performed a 30-minute set of spoken word poems at the Columbia poetry venue Mind Gravy, located at the Black Drip coffee house. The venue incidentally sold some incredibly tasty coffee.

The night featured also musician Tonya Tyner, whom you can find here: https://www.facebook.com/tonyatyner

Find info on the poetry night here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/mindgravy/

I’ve posted some photos below, taken by Leslie C. Gilroy of Columbia, SC.

 

Getting warmed up.
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Going in.

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A very emotional performance of “Daniel” with Cait Cox on the guitar.

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Cait Cox and myself performing our group piece “Scream.” You can see how sweaty and exhausted I had become by that poem. I was still going in, though.

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Leslie snapped a pic of my CD!

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Slam Madness: Days 2 and 3

Pics from Slam Madness! Photo creds to Chucktown poet Fresh Prince of Poetry!

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On Saturday morning, we helped with a youth workshop. One of the highlights of the weekend, during which the poets helped young people express themselves.

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Unfortunately, I lost after the first round and could not go on to the final round, but I think I made a good impression. But hey, check out this video of “Fork”!

All in all, this weekend became incredibly inspiring. Once Sunday rolled around, we decided to stay because we left the slam absolutely stunned. So many amazing poets, so many breathtaking poets. In our hearts, we are all 30’s– we are worth the three minutes of your time. And congrats to Moody Black for winning the entire slam and for Ed Mabrey for scoring second place! Check out some of the competitors below!

 

 

Slam Madness: Day 1

1378091335Class ends, and we pack our bags with clothes, books, and poetry. After a panini pit stop, on the road by 4 pm, we rocked out to Mos Def, Childish Gambino, Johnathan Brown Andrea Gibson, Buddy Wakefield, Listener, and Matt Foley– some of the best poets for inspiration as we approached Greenville. In this town, incredibly progressive and bustling with energy, we would be competing in Slam Madness, an annual poetry slam run by Sapient Soul and John C. Weaver. Some of the best poets in the nation will be coming out to bout for a $1500 grand prize, complete with two preliminary and one championship round.

Once we arrived in the city, an hour or so late, we plunged headlong into a poetic evening in a small Greenville restaurant called Jamaica Mi Irie, a bistro serving delicious Jamacian cuisine, at which Madness poets and locals engaged in a free style poetry slam. Each competitor picked random topics from a box, then created rhymes, rhythms, and inspirational messages on the spot. After three furious rounds of good-natured competition, Ed Mabrey brought home the prize. He too will be competing in the slam. For perspective, he’s won the Individual World Poetry Slam. Talk about some serious competition.

So let’s represent Chucktown, show these Charleston poets that can hold their own on the big stage.

Keep updated on the slam performances tomorrow and Sunday, including videos, photos, quotes, interviews, and basic HYPE. In the meantime, get out to downtown Greeneville to witness this spectacular slam, check out some videos of Slam Madness competitors. Sorry for not including everyone, but that would be a lot of videos.

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Two rounds of a slam, here recorded on video.

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Round 1:

Final Round:

 

Enjoy, leave comments, come out to the slam. We throw down poetic language every other week in Avondale in the very cool art gallery 827.

M.A.D. Studios Feature

Snapshot 7 (1-3-2014 5-53 PM)Met some great poets and reunited with old friends at last night’s show. We took a few photographs recently posted on the Facebook page. I personally left very satisfied with my performance, was glad to showcase a more mature performing style that’s evolved over the past year. Unfortunately, the camera had some glitches, but here’s the bit of video we did manage to retrieve, which shows two great performances of two poems that appear on “Perfect Nights.” And then there’s almost all of “Perfect Nights” as well.

Although I would have loved videos of other poems, this could not be. Perhaps this is a good opportunity to perform these again in the near future.

Enjoy!

 

“Fork,” by Derek Berry

A performance at the King Dusko open mic about speech therapy and the importance of having a voice. Written a lot of new poems, fortunately, that will soon flow forth on the mic. Check them out as well as my forthcoming chapbook entitled Skinny Dipping with Strangers.

Leave thoughts below or on Youtube video.

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“Lords of the Arts, Revived.”

Below is a video from King Dusko’s first open mic, co-hosted by Khalil Ali and myself. Though the first few lines of this poem are cut off, here is it shared. The first line: “For those who wish to pursue art professionally…” Click the link to listen.

Lords of the Arts, Revived

 

For more pictures or videos, visit: http://charlestonpoets.com/

King Dusko Open Mic Promotional

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