UWhen I was 12 years old, my grandfather (papi) died. The only thing that helped me to get through the reality of his passing was poetry. I don’t remember the exact day or moment that I started writing… I just couldn’t grieve and act a fool like my other family members did at the funeral. When I was too weak to speak, I found my strength to keep it together somewhere deep within through words and rhythms. The death of papi was the first time that death hit home. I learned that experiencing that kind of loss and grief was completely different from hearing about it. He and I were very close. It was there through his death that my new life began. At the age of 12, I embarked on a new journey piloted by emotions and words.
Flash forward to 2005
After the loss of papi, I systematically fell into place as the quiet girl that sat in back of class writing in her notebook. My notebook was my lifeline. When I made it to high school, I began to be more vocal with the poetry that I wrote. After being encouraged by close friends, I broke out of my shell and began competing in my school’s annual talent shows. I placed in every competition that I entered. Once I officially crossed over into adulthood, I decided to walk on faith and step out onto the Atlanta poetry scene. The new name for it was “spoken word”.
My first open mic experience was a blessed one. I remember that evening as if it just happened. The name of the place was called Ambiance. It was a grungy hole-in-the-wall located off of Candler road in Decatur, Georgia. What I love and appreciate about my first open mic experience was the audience and the host. They were both very receptive and encouraging. As soon as my friend (who was an HBO def poet) introduced me as being a “virgin to the mic”, I automatically earned their support.
I stumble over my words a few times when my nerves got the best of me. The audience had my back. They clapped and encouraged me to finish what I started. That’s how an open mic should be… My first experience was on the scene was one that was wrapped in love and respect for the art form. At the end of the day, it’s about growth, development, and sharing.
That was just 2005.
After I got my first taste of sharing my inner feelings and thoughts with a room full of strangers that somehow identified with my deepest feelings, I was HOOKED. Nearly every other night I was somewhere in the city getting on someone’s mic and releasing all the while growing stronger and more confident within myself. Poetry became my crack and I loved getting high.. It was there that I truly learned to embrace my gift of word. God gave it to me…
I began hosting my own open mic at a small coffeeshop in late 2006. I absolutely loved it. After hosting and hitting different spots for a while, I soon began to see a different side to Atlanta’s poetry scene. Unfortunately, that other side was pretty ugly. What really happened? There are so many angles to address this side of Atlanta’s poetry life, I literally don’t know where to start….
Atlanta is not the same city that it was in the 90’s. The city began to grow and advance more after the construction of the Georgia Dome in 1994 and the summer Olympic games in 1996. At that time, Atlanta was a mecca for individuality, art, life, and culture. This wasn’t just a party town. I remember watching Atlanta make that transition from a popular city into a major southern metropolis. Even after Atlanta morphed into what it is now, there was still a soulful sweetness here that you couldn’t taste anywhere else. The overall mentality was, “There’s plenty of such and such to go around for everyone to be good”.
I miss this Atlanta… Today… I don’t know what that hell this is. Granted, economically and productivity-wise things have changed but still. With productions such as Def Poetry Jam and Lyric Cafe captivating television audiences everywhere, poetry has come more to the forefront and things began to change. In recent years, the “A” has grown increasingly hott due to the number of film projects being produced here and the number of artists that have been able to break in the city’s popular music scene. Plain and simple, this isn’t the same city that Young Bloodz rhymed about in “85” . The days of Good old fashioned soul food and black ice are gone…
Cliques and The Hollywood Seasoned Poets
Atlanta’s poetry scene has a lot of cliques. These are groups of people that come together to form something like a literary militia/family. There is absolutely nothing wrong with getting together in unison but a lot of these cliques are unnecessary and operate more so in a socially juvenile manor. It almost reminds me of High School. Really, this is poetry. Is there a need to make things this deep? I’ve been to events that were “clique operated” or “clique affiliated” and witnessed all kinds of fukkery. I’ll throw the “Hollywood seasoned poet” into this mix as well. One thing that I have seen that I just cannot respect is open mic hosts bumping lesser known or “non-cliqued” people either down or off of the list.
What kind of shit is this? Everyone who does poetry does not look at poetry as a career. That’s just real. Not only that, but, some people patronize these establishments just to enjoy the art. I’ll never understand competitiveness in poetry outside of slamming. As Atlanta transitions more into the title of “Black Hollywood” , some things are becoming more cut-throat. Why poetry? Furthermore, if you are not there to sign the list at a decent time or you can’t call someone and get them to add your name, you have NOOOOOO BUSINESS shitting on the people who were there before you. In addition, most of these events are not free to enter and parking may require a fee as well.
“The Michael Jordan of Poetry”
There is nothing wrong in being confident and taking pride in your work but there are a few poets that take it too far. In like manner, they have an extreme attitude and expectations. One situation that comes to mind in particular. It involved a well known poet from up north who has done Russell Simmon’s Def Poetry Jam a few times. He is talented and has been somewhat successful with his art. Because of his gift of gab, people seek him out for features and events. Of course, no one who truly respects the arts expect poets to work for free (no respectable person in their right mind, that is)….. There was a situation where a very close friend of mines sought out this particular poet to participate in a special event.
After he quoted her a ridiculous Maya Angelou price for 3 poems, he got very “Hollywood”. He coped an attitude and told her, “Do you know who I am, I am the Michael Jordan of Poetry”. Excuse me, what kind of crack are you smoking? My friend supported him and literally brought AAAAAALLLLLL of his CD’s. We’re not talking about two or three albums neither. Needless to say, he did not perform in that show. Unfortunately, my friend left disappointed and disgusted, not because he didn’t perform, but he was down right nasty. Equally important is, he isn’t the only one that has that mentality. S/N I’ve heard his poetry…. Ummm NEXT!!!!
The coat-tale rider/ Opportunist
In one way, shape, or form we have all dealt with this kind of individual in some area of life. This person lurks in every scene. They are on the prowl for any and every opportunity that they can capitalize on. By the same token, there is nothing wrong with networking and looking out for you. However, In poetry there is an even more aggressive breed that has emerged. I personally had my nasty encounter with this type of person not to long ago. I remember hosting a special event that he was a part of in January of this year. He was a pretty cool dude that seemed to be pretty humble.
After the event, we kept in contact via social network. I did not have a car and found out that I was expecting my first child. Flash forward to July of this year and I can honestly say, “Who the fukk is this”? From January to now, he began making big moves and networking with other people…. Great, i’m not hating on the growth at all.
After breaking out on his own and hosting an open mic he contacted me in reference to my journalistic services. I gave him a super discounted fee for my weekly services. I charged him lower because I understood. Not to mention, the open mic was still fairly new and growing. That was coupled with the fact that I considered him to be cool peeps. Do you know he tried to barter a deal with me to take me to my then monthly doctor appointments instead of paying the already discounted rate?
I’ll never forget that phone conversation and the bad taste it left in my mouth. Mind you, I was beginning to hear stories from others surrounding him about his shady business dealings. After that encounter I completely blocked him from all my social networks. I did not want to risk a miscarriage screaming on his ignorant a$$ for trying me with that raggedy deal. Oh yea, I also went out and bought a reliable vehicle so I could drive myself around. What’s funny is how many poets have whispered behind his back in reference to his thirst and money hungriness. Who in the hell tries to sell bookmarks at a business meeting? OOPS…
Ok, I’m not hating on anyone doing whatever they feel they need to do to become a stronger poet. I just don’t understand the poetry mentor thing. It makes sense if you are a child or teenager and you are exploring poetry or literature but outside of that, I just don’t get it. Can someone please explain this in the comment box. This has become a growing trend amongst grown people on Atlanta’s poetry scene and I honestly don’t get it.
Compare the changes in Atlanta’s poetry scene to those that have occurred in the music industry but, still, that argument isn’t valid. Spoken word, is not music, IT’S SPOKEN WORD. It is the lyrics without the vibrations, adlibs, or distractions. As a matter of fact, I don’t know what to call it. Everyday in Atlanta, it’s evolving more into a blood sport. At the end of the day, I scratch my head and think, “Damn, is this really poetry and is this Atlanta”? What makes it so bad is that, other cities aren’t no where near as troubled.
I will conclude this article by saying this: I love poetry… I love Atlanta… However, Atlanta’s poetry scene…. hmmmm. Every seasoned performer is not “Hollywood”. There are still a few Jon Goode’s, Amena Brown’s, Alice Lovelace’s, Christopher “K.P” Brown’s and Theresa Davis’s left out there. One thing that I love about these poets is that no matter what happens, they will never change. As for me, I’ve been on a hiatus for 3 years. The same art form that used to give me life doesn’t resonate deep within the way that it used to. Maybe one day, i will make and official comeback and pick up where I left off but as of right now, I’m enjoying journalism and the perks of new mommyhood. However, I am still connected to the scene. You may just catch me in the audience simply observing and enjoying a positive vibe.
S/O to the Michael Jordan of Poetry and The coat-tale rider. #KILLYOSELF