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Blank Page Poetry tests the Waters
A favorite poetry event returns next week

Waters Avenue: Voices Along the Corridor

Thurs., Nov. 8, 6:30 p.m.

St. Peter's Episcopal Church on the Landings, 3 W. Ridge Rd.

Free and open to all

JEROME MEADOWS presents next Thursday "Blank Page Poetry: Waters Avenue: Voices Along the Corridor."

Meadows created Blank Page Poetry in 2012 and has held several different iterations since.

At a Blank Page Poetry event, poets stand behind a lighted white sheet and use movement and their shadows to perform their poem. The result is a unique experience that strips the poem down to its essence.

At “Waters Avenue: Voices Along the Corridor,” nine poets will read poems inspired by life along Waters Avenue.

We spoke with Meadows ahead of the event.

Tell me about Voices Along the Corridor.

Meadows: It’s about the Waters Avenue corridor from north to south. That came about as a result of Tom Kohler introducing me to the minister at the church, St. Peter’s [Episcopal Church on the Landings]. St. Peter’s had been actively establishing relationships along the corridor. The comparison is that [the church] is in the wealthiest zip code, and we’re on the lowest economic scale on this end. So the idea was, what can they do to begin to understand what goes on along the corridor and how they might find ways of contributing to the needs as they may be. They had already been doing that to some extent with the parishioners in various schools, but they wanted to enhance that.

So, since I’m established on this end and they’re established on that end, we began to communicate, and I suggested Blank Page Poetry, because they would be a way of bringing voices to the table.

Why is it important to bring voices to the corridor?

Meadows: There’s been a lot of talk and pseudo initiatives by the city to rejuvenate Waters Avenue from Gwinnett to Victory. And every time they do it, there’s a photo op and they talk big and things fizzle and die. Which they don’t seem to understand that each time they do that, their credibility in the community is less and less. After the false promises, it gets to be, “Well, this is another promise that isn’t going to happen. The residents get sick of hearing it and they become jaded.

Every place else in this city gets attention except for this avenue. What I enjoy about this is when the church stepped up, they were for real. They were actually serious about it. Phone calls were returned! [St. Peter’s] helped me do what I’ve always been trying to do.

There’s the thread of gentrification, of course, on Waters Avenue. One way I look at gentrification is, it’s a double-edged sword. There are good things and bad things about it. The bad things are when the new completely ignores the existing. That history, that legacy, those family stories are meaningless because development is its own thing and it attracts people who could care less about what was here.

What I like about this is we’re bringing the voices of what’s here to light. You can’t say, “Well, I didn’t know there was a community here.” Let’s face it, the average person coming in to buy a house and flip it isn’t listening. But if you put the story out there in a way that there’s a chance somebody could hear it, you could have heard it. That’s what “Voices Along the Corridor” is all about.

How long did the planning process of this event take?

Meadows: The gathering of poets started in September. We put out a call and we got responses and narrowed it down to the ones who we thought were best suited for the theme and had the best poetic voice. With Blank Page Poetry, it’s always a matter of making sure—or hoping—the poets will be able to make our schedule. We require that each poet has three one-on-one rehearsals because, no matter, whether you’re a professional poet or you’ve done poetry slams or whatever, you’ve never turned yourself into a shadow. That’s all the audience sees. That’s why we have more than one rehearsal. One, they can get off book and learn their poem. Two, they can get used to the shadow and develop moments that are genuine for them and will help enhance the experience.

How is the performance structured?

Meadows: There are two dance segments. Brea Cali is the choreographer and stage manager, and she selected a dancer, so there will be a single dancer with two segments built into what will probably be a 50 minute performance.

It’s interesting because it organically fell that way, but it works in terms of being able to give the audience a pretty full immersion and leaving them wanting more.

Between each segment, there’s what we call a sound bridge. The poet will do their performance, and then the paper goes dark. Rather than having silence until the next poet, we have sounds that carry like a bridge from one to the next. In this case, we’re sourcing the sound from Waters Avenue. The first one is a bird chirping and cars running, which was recorded from my bedroom [laughs].

Some of the sounds are just traffic—the idea is we’re starting on the north and traveling south.

What do you hope people take away from “Voices Along the Corridor?”

Meadows: I like to think of it on a number of different levels. One, they will have a new, if not deeper, appreciation for poetry. One of the first things I have to do with our poets—again, there are people who do poetry readings all the time or never, they tend to race through their poem. How quickly can we get through this? I tell them, the power of the poem lies in the words, so slow it down. As the poet, presumably you’re channeling something or you’ve got this inspirational thing to write these words, so empower them. Let people hear them. It takes people a while to get comfortable with that.

It also is a matter of, once you slow it down, the words become more aligned with your movements. Just standing there without motion, you’re spilling these words, but once you slow it down and you’re not reading, your body can begin to move with the words.

Some poets say that after they do Blank Page Poetry, they’ll never write poetry the same way. It changed the way they think about writing the poem.

We did a performance in Portsmouth [New Hampshire] and had a Q&A afterwards. One of the audience members stood up and said, “I really felt like I was looking at the soul of the poet.” I could have gone over and given the gentleman a hug. I had never thought about it in that specific way. There was nothing about clothing or facial appearance, just this entity in movement with these words.