Need your voice heard in the community or just looking for a positive outlet for your frustrations? Attend one of Savannah’s growing number of open mic nights.
I listen as Anthony Smith recites the words to “Daydream,” a poem he wrote when he returned to Savannah from serving in Iraq. By the end of his recitation, I’ve been drawn into another world, Smith’s world, the one he fantasized about during a difficult time in his life. He’d gone through divorce and was raising three children while attending college. After reading his poetry aloud for the first time in Iraq, other soldiers began confiding in him about the relationships also collapsing in their lives. Spoken word poetry became Smith’s catharsis—and theirs.
Spoken word, also known as performance poetry, is performed live, in front of an audience.
“You take people back to the place you were when you wrote it,” says Marquice Williams, co-director of Spitfire Poetry, Savannah’s premier troupe. “The poems come to life and unfold before your eyes.”
Influenced by beat and hip-hop cultures, the genre emerged during the 1970s and 1980s. Its roots, however, extend back to the oral traditions of Ancient Greece and tribal times.
After Spitfire co-founder Clinton Powell died in 2011, his protégés Williams and Joshua Davis secured the reins, producing sold-out shows at Muse Warehouse and bringing in nationally recognized poets like slam champion Queen Sheba. Savannah’s poetry scene has grown steadily ever since with regular performances at venues throughout the City. Each April, local groups sponsor a weeklong festival celebrating national poetry month.
Photographic artist Keri Cronan recalls her first open mic. Not one to take the stage, she carried poems in her pockets for years. That night changed her. Unlike her usual visual medium, she discovered that spoken word provided a more concise, and often satisfying, way to convey her emotions.
Following his mentor’s legacy, Williams also holds poetry workshops for Savannah youth. “Imagine the bridges we could build in our community by teaching youth to channel their anger through storytelling,” he says. Some critics claim this brand of poetry is mere nonsense. Smith acknowledges it’s definitely not Robert Frost. But today’s delivery styles run the gamut. And the beauty of the spoken word platform is the opportunity for all voices to be heard, from the doctors and 90-year-olds who take the stage, to those often marginalized in our culture—women and the black and LGBT communities.
Besides, Savannah’s most famous author often used shock to gain people’s attention, too. “Flannery O’Connor knew some people are hard of hearing so sometimes you have to shout,” Smith says.