Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Spoken Word Poetry and the growth of consciousness (in Mississippi)

At some point, someone should write about the relationship between spoken word poetry and the growth of consciousness among undergraduates. Maybe, the journalist or scholar writing about that relationship between the art form and its key audience would address how and why spoken word poetry serves as a crucial gateway into some sense of political consciousness and cultural history. They might talk about the vital and sometimes vulnerable space that spoken word occupies between rap music and the poems students encounter in classrooms.
I first began to witness spoken word poetry performances somewhat regularly during the mid and late 1990s as an undergraduate at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi. Two poets that stood out to me during that time were C. Liegh McInnis and Jolivette Anderson, who lived in Jackson and organized and participated in readings here and there in the city.

Now that I think about it, the phrase "spoken word poetry" was not attached so much to their performances, not as much as I heard the term some years later. Instead, you'd simply hear someone say that there was an open mic or gathering and "C. Liegh is going to read," or you'd hear about an event where "Jolivette [had] read." That's it; their activities were often simply referred to, in shorthand at least, as "readings." 

But it was reading of a different sort. There were some good poets on my campus, but none of my peers presented their poems out loud with the consistency of force, high level of militancy, and engagements with politics of McInnis and Anderson. They were, in my mind standouts. In retrospect, it's notable that those two were slightly older than my 18 to 21-year-old classmates. Without the link to their "readings," it's possible that I would have never encountered them, and spoken word would have come to me later. Maybe.

The more I began traveling and interacting with various folks over the years, I discovered that other "conscious" folks I met had also been exposed to their own versions of a McInnis or Anderson--local activist-minded poets who served as introductions to the poetry but also to issues related to politics, performance traditions, and a range of other topics. Nearly every city I visited or stayed in had spoken word scenes, and sure enough, I'd hear about leading poets who were "deep," "conscious," "political," or "talented" poet-performers who had, over years, helped affect the growth of consciousness.

The economies of spoken word poetry and print-based poetry (on college campuses) 

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