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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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“Aiken Remembers”: Celebrate Our History and Community This Sunday

Press release: http://www.aikenstandard.com/story/0715-Joe-Lista

This Sunday, I will be presiding over and hosting a show at the Aiken Community Playhouse called “Aiken Remembers: Our Community Through the Lens of Joe Lista.” I wrote a column about it months ago for Verge, but now we’ve finally arrived. This Sunday, we will gather on-stage at 3 with four guest speakers who will lend personal stories to the already fascinating pictures of our town from the years 1954-1964.

https://derekberry.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/verge-article-about-aiken/

This project has been more than one year in the making, ever since my boss sent me into the archives to find interesting photographs. With the help of URS, this evolved into a show to honor Todd’s father Joe Lista as well as take a closer, personal look at the era. Afterwards, we will show further pictures from our archives while enjoying refreshments.

I am completely stoked for this show, and I hope it brings back nostalgia for those who lived through this era while piquing intrigue from younger generations. Though some of the pictures cover controversial topics, such as segregation and socio-economic boundaries, this era emphasized community. Though we were a small town, we thrived together. Hopefully, we can regain this sense of community, and remembering how we did so once is the first step to doing so.

If you are a history-buff or a connoisseur of photography, you should come out to the Aiken Community Playhouse main stage in the URS Center of Performing Arts to enjoy this spectacle. I have spoken and interviewed all of our guest speakers and can ensure you that their stories are worth listening to.

The show will be broadcast live by Aiken Standard TV.

Once we reclaim our past, we can make today a yesterday we can be proud of.

Verge Article About Aiken

Recently, I wrote a column for Verge about appreciating your hometown and its history. You can catch it on page 11 in this month’s magazine issue. Check it out and leave your thoughts here.

http://vergelive.com/

How Hollywood Killed Cool

I Want To Grow Up to Be Ryan Gosling (Or a Pirate)

Every male thinks that maybe they can at times be  very romantic creatures as in, Ryan-Gosling-from-The Notebook-romantic. That sort of expectation is just not justified by the sad reality of almost imminent obesity and male pattern baldness. As kids, we want to grow up to be a lot of things.

Rich.

Handsome.

Charming.

Intellectual.

Published.

We imagine the future to hold so many things that it so obviously cannot. Like a six pack, maybe. Like billions of dollars and a book deal. I began thinking about this when writing my “Writing Biography” posts this weekend.

In the fifth grade, I had huge plans for my future. I would be on Oprah and parade through the streets while people screamed my name. I was also for the duration of my childhood under the impression that I would die at 16. I would publish a book that would rock the world, change society… and then I’d die.

After publishing something, I could die. That would have been fine with me, just sixteen years of life and one book on the shelves.

Well, I didn’t publish anything. I didn’t gain the romantic suave of Ryan Gosling or his six packs. At sixteen, I didn’t die and maybe although it was just a small premonition, I didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t made real plans for the future, hadn’t really thought beyond what might have been my imminent death.

It’s one of those strange notions sparked during childhood that stick with you: sixteen years seemed like it would be long enough to achieve everything I’ve ever wanted to do. Maybe not.

The problem with growing up is that you have to change your game plan, the older you get. Maybe when you’re young, you can want to be a robot or a ninja. With how many video games I played and episodes of Power Rangers I watched, I thought it was imminent that one day, I’d save the earth from a horde of attacking aliens.

But as we grow older, we cross out things we deem impossible. As William Wilberforce said, “We are too young to realize that certain things are impossible, so we will do them anyways.” But then suddenly becoming a robot seems impossible. We presume we’ll never save the earth from aliens or don a ninja suit.

After this, more realistic dreams crumble. Maybe we can’t be lawyers, can’t be doctors. Can’t woo women with smooth ease. Can’t write stories that make people cry or rejoice or feel anything. And there’s a fine line between impossible and improbable, I think.

There are truths that you have to come to terms with, like the fact that you will never be Ryan Gosling. But there are also hard truths that must come to terms with you.

If you really, really want to become a pirate, you just need a fast ship and an eyepatch. A crew, some cannons, a cutlass, and a criminal record.

If you really want to become a doctor, you’ll need to go the medical school. I think I’d have an easier time becoming a pirate, but don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done.

If you really want to become Ryan Gosling, you must discover the secret to altering your DNA. Also, get a gym membership.

If you really want to become an author, you first have to write a book.

The Writing History of Derek Berry: Part 2

Derek is telling a wonderful story about how he finally wrote a novel he’s proud of and all about everything he’s ever done in writing. Read part 1 here: https://derekberry.wordpress.com/2011/07/23/the-writing-history-of-derek-berry-part-1/

Read about his book here: https://derekberry.wordpress.com/about-the-book-word-salad/

Last time, I told you about Aurelia, the book I wrote when I was only eleven.

After I put Aurelia away, I ventured onto several tangents. Some time during my freshman year, I ventured into rocky territory. I dropped fantasy, which I always intended to write in my youth. My “younger” youth. Instead, I wanted to write horror. I tried all sorts of projects, too- a learning experience. Dean Koontz rip-offs, Stephen King rip-offs. the most cringe-worthy idea was about a horde of very classy vampires who exploited the vampire craze of the day by sleeping with creepy, nerdy Twihards.

As a sophomore, I began writing for the Hornet Herald, which I credit with my skills at writing funny blog posts! After being subjected to plenty of snooze-inducing news stories, I finally tried my hand at a column. A Valentines Column that I may one day re-post here (probably on Valentines Day). For the past year, I’ve almost exclusively been writing columns for our school newspaper, funny serious, and otherwise. Some might find their way here, some not. I’ll have to dig through the archives of my old computer. Such practice has helped me learn how to write blogs, I’d like to believe.

Last summer, I began writing poetry. It began as angry tirades but became more like this: https://derekberry.wordpress.com/2011/06/11/reading-poetry/ More poetry videos will be coming soon, I promise.

A very captivating poetry reading very late at night

I began writing Word Salad for NANOWRIMO, which is in November when you’re supposed to write 50,000 words in one month. The book was not exactly what it is today, because it was called The Life and Times of a Serial Killer and dealt solely with Sebastian Martinelli. The story I wanted to tell only involved a serial killer and a lot of gory acts of violence: this was before I learned how to better write about, you know, “feelings.”
The story now, is far large in expanse and storytelling. But I do suggest NANOWRIMO to people who want to jump-start ideas. No, the story will not be able to be published right away, and no 50,000 is not the length of a real novel, but it’s a good start. Learn more here: http://www.nanowrimo.org/ Even if you don’t want to be a commercial author, it’s fun and I think it’s great for aspiring writers.

Well, it took about two years after that of revisions. In fact, I think I just decided to change the ending… again. Because as long as I haven’t published the book yet, I can do that. The problem arose because of a beta reader’s comments who found that the ending was very unfair to the consistency of one character.

I’ve shaped the story, though, to a place where I’m very proud to show it off, to market it via a blog. To send query letters, though I should stop until I rework the ending. Otherwise, I’m very excited to share it with the world as soon as possible. What path I know shall take is unknown. We will one day see. Also, I’m planning on printing and publishing a book of poetry. Merely a chapbook to hawk off at poetry readings. But… I’ve reconsidered and now I believe I shall also sell an e-book copy of the book (once I put all the poems together and write an introduction and put together a chapbook.) But hopefully, the poetry book which has yet to be named will be coming to an Amazon website near you!

That is the entire and exhaustive history of my writing. I hope you have enjoyed reading about the misadventures of Derek Berry!

The Writing History of Derek Berry: Part 1

I think it would be fun to recount the writing misadventures of my own short life, so read about them here.

Derek began writing stories at the age of five. His first story was called “The Night Before Christmas” in which Santa Claus fell down the chimney and died in a fire, sort of like a rip-off of “The Santa Claus” sans Tim Allen.

Now he’s written something he’s more proud of, a novel called Word Salad. Read about it here: https://derekberry.wordpress.com/about-the-book-word-salad/

In the fifth grade, I wrote a twelve-part story about a kid who tracks down magical amulets and saves the world and whatnot. This was the first time I wrote anything especially gory. Unnecessarily gory. I think the villain (Mr. Paradox) was stabbed through his Achilles tendon and shot in the face. Other character met similarly grisly ends: pushed off cliffs, burned alive, eaten by flesh-eating bugs.

This first foray into the nitty gritty may foreshadow some of my gory/strange story choices nowadays.

At that age, writing helped me express myself; I was not the social animal I am today. I wasn’t even any sort of animal, per se. I could not speak very well for the first eleven years of my life, so I wrote. I read. Maybe having spent eleven years nearly silent, I feel like I should make up for it now. But writing, cliche enough, became an escape for me. I never questioned that deep down, I wanted to tell stories. Before wanting to become a writer, I thought I’d love to be a film director until I learned that they were usually not responsible with WRITING the story. I wanted to make up stories for people to enjoy.

In the fifth grade, I decided I wanted to write professionally. How hard could it be? At eleven, I could simply type up a book and send it to a big publisher. They’d fall in love and give lots and lots of money so I could continue to write books for the rest of my life in the safety of a lake house. Well, it’s been six years since that dream was first inspired, and sadly, no lake house. No published works.

Of course when Random House did not mail me back, I did not lose faith. Instead, I started writing something new. What you’ll notice about my writing life is that I’ve never stopped writing. I don’t expect to not publish Word Salad, but if it fails to garner any sort of attention, I shan’t stop writing. That’s just not what I do. Even in the sixth grade, I understood that. So, at twelve, I began to write what I like to think as “my first real novel.”

It was horrible. I was twelve. But I’m still damn proud out it, because I wrote it. Like I said, I was TWELVE. I finished the first and even penned a sequel, planning out a whole series before tiring out of the story. But still, this novel I wrote was even longer than the one I’m pushing right now. And it’s not THAT bad, even, especially considering a sixth grader wrote it. It took about a year and a half to write and was called Aurelia.

The basic premise was that there is an eighth continent floating around in the sky where magical stuff happens, the place where our myths come from. Because an evil sorcerer vanquished years ago threatens to return (his name was Zinnebarr, which mind you, is an awesome name), the Aurelians seek the help of “the chosen one.” The said chosen one was Declin Furthermore who is kidnapped by a giant rainbow-colored bird named Tropez and taken to the capitol. There, Declin learns it is his duty and destiny to find Zinnebarr’s spirit and destroy his source of power, The Shadow Orb.

Well, it’s not exactly original, but I think writing something like this was a great step in the right direction. No one takes you seriously at twelve, so I did get kindly replies from agents. “I can’t help you publish this, but keep on writing” became the ultimate sentiment. What I’m most proud of is what issues I tackled. I continued to rewrite and rewrite the story I’d written until I was about 14. And the story, therefore, became more imaginative, more complicated. The fictional continent was mostly vacant grasslands for some reason with only about 17 real cities, but each city was important. The rest of the continent, I remember, was covered by either desert or a really creepy forest. One of the cities was the industrial center of the otherwise pollution-free land, so a magical dome was placed over it to keep in all the nasty smog. Things like that, I’m proud of.

I may blog another day about the ingenuity of Aurelia, of which I still have a copy of in my room, but unfortunately, no digital copies. I might try to find a copy of it on a flashdrive somewhere and share its juvenile awesomeness gratis to the world.

Well, that’s the end of part 1 of this awesome story. Tune in tomorrow or Monday for Part 2 of The Writing History of Derek Berry.