'VERSE' CREW: Vladimir Lucien graced the mic as April's guest poet; sharing a moment below with M'Bala, Graham and Tommy Ricketts.
It’s billed as an end-of-month get-together that provides a platform for local poets and spoken-word artists to share their latest creations before an audience of their peers and get constructive criticism. But in recent times the monthly fellowship of Poetry Society of Jamaica has taken on a sort of intense workshop vibe, where the critique and dissection of works can be frightening to the unsuspecting aspiring writer. The tone of the discussion occasionally crescendos to a sharp fever pitch. Edge-of-your-seat stuff. In other words, these days you have to be brave and sport a thick skin if you want to grace the open mic at Poetry Society.
Case in point: the recent April fellowship where the discussion got so electrically charged that one fellow packed up his things and stalked off from the Edna Manley College’s amphitheatre and into the night. Yes, these poets take their stuff seriously. But the society’s leading lady, Yasheka Graham, a prize-winning writer known for her own sharp critical analysis, says first-timers need have no fear.
“The aim is to bring the poems and the poets to the stage and to discuss them. It’s not a performance space, even though a lot of times it seems to become that,” she tells TALLAWAH. “The point really of the fellowship is to have that workshop energy to bring the poems to the stage, break them apart and see how we can improve upon them. That’s what the discussion elements does and really aims to do.”
M’Bala, the open mic emcee and a longstanding member of the society, concurs. “The important thing is we want the writers to grow, so the feedback, the comments, the discussion of the work, to me, is the most important part of the whole thing. I find myself growing as a writer because of the feedback I get,” the award-winning poet and percussionist explains. “Sometimes the discussion gets a little heated, as you saw tonight; we’ve had that before. But it’s all a part of the enjoyment and celebration of poetry.”
And what a celebration: ‘orchestral’ sounds to greet each reader (cymbals, drums, tambourines), loud cheers and applause for the crowd-pleasers, rhythms and rhymes in a passionate blend. The college’s outdoor amphitheatre provides a cool setting for these kindred spirits and their creative expression – a few of them whipping out smartphones to read their verse. The Calabash-bound Vladimir Lucien was April’s special guest poet, sharing well-received selections from his acclaimed collection, Sounding Ground.
This winning mix of talents (established and amateur) is undoubtedly the core of the fellowship’s appeal and, by all accounts, will remain so. “Basically, we want to continue using this poetry fellowship to let more voices be heard,” says M’Bala, “and fulfil our primary objective, which is to give writers an outlet, provide feedback and feature an established poet.”