Get slammed at Festival International

by Walter Pierce

These ain't your grandfather's rhymed couplets.

Some years ago, Festival International tried to include a Poetry Slam in its schedule.

But even with Zachary Richard at the helm, it was a good idea gone bad because the venue was in a bar, a fact pretty much unbeknownst to festival-goers who came and went rather noisily - as bar patrons usually do.

This time around, however, a poetry slam is set for a much quieter venue during Festival, Parish Ink, 310 Jefferson St., which is a good thing because it will also include qualifying rounds for the Individual World Poetry Slam set for October in Fayetteville, Ark.

But wait, there's more.

Don Mitchell, president of Spoken Innovation Literary Organization, the group behind the event, is thrilled to be a part of Festival and the potential draw it represents for poets and the community at large.

"Ah, man. It's like really, really huge," says Mitchell. "Just meeting all those people from all over the country is just a wonderful, wonderful experience. I just want to take this opportunity to bring in some national talent, some poets that travel the country performing poetry."

Mitchell also looks to Festival as a way to get the word out on poetry slams.

"I just want to give the community an idea what a poetry slam is," he says. "This has been going on since 1984, and nobody really knows about poetry slams. So, that's the goal of our organization to awaken minds, to foster education."

There's more going on Friday-Sunday with the poetry slam game plan that meets the ears.

Mitchell says the Friday and Sunday 1-3 p.m. slots during Festival are the semi-final and final qualifying rounds, respectively, for the international slam.

"We have a series of poetry slams going on and once a year, the Poetry Slam Inc., has the Individual World Poetry Slam where 80 poets from around the world compete for the title," he says. "We're going to send a representative to represent Lafayette."

The Saturday's event, also set for 1-3 p.m., features a good-natured competition between the Lafayette and New Orleans poetry slam teams.

An open mic session will be available for poets all three days.

"We invite poets to come out and just give the audience quality performance poetry," Mitchell says.

It should be noted that the poetry slam at Parish Ink is not the same program as the Spoken Word at the LUS Pavillon de Cuisine Saturday and Festival Sunday. Revolution Theory is behind the event that brings modern performance art to the tradition of storytelling.

Mitchell says a poetry slam is the competitive art of performance poetry, and the audience participates in the poetry.

"The poet actually gets judged on how well the poem is written, as well as the performance of the poem," Mitchell says. "It's honest. It's original. We ask poets to perform their own original work.

"No props. No costumes. No music," he says."So it's all about the poetry."

A series of poetry slams are held at Frankie's Burgers on Jefferson Street. The first slam is Friday (Feb. 17), 7-10 p.m.., followed by two slams in March and two in April.

"We're going to use those slams as like a prelude for poets to earn points to make it to the semi-finals," Mitchell says."Even if you get through the process and you get to the semi-finals at Parish Ink, we're still going to have an open mic and an open slam.

"We just don't want to turn the poets away," he says. "I wanted to use that event to pick our winner."

Mitchell says the Spoken Innovation Literary Organization is "all about community." The group does community outreach, such as the recent Valentines & Teen Dating Violence Awareness Conference, and presents poetry workshops, too.

"Poetry to us is honest. It is therapeutic. We write about things that we don't necessary communicate in everyday conversation," says Mitchell. "I want to give poets a platform to express themselves, to express how poetry impacted their lives. How poetry changed somebody else's life.

"We just put together some dynamic poems. We practice together," he says. "We poets are a very tight-knit community of poets."

The Spoken Innovation Poetry Showcase airs the fourth Friday of every month, 7 p.m., on AOC Cable Channel 15 or 16, or LUS Fiber Channel 3 or 4. It is filmed the third Monday of the month from noon to 2 p.m.

"You cannot use profanity, so I just ask the poets to try not to talk about drugs, racial abuse and stuff. Try to keep it clean," says Mitchell. "It's about the family, you know. And that's what we're doing."

INFO: [email protected] or (337) 384-9948