“No telling me that words don’t have power/ ‘Cause when it comes down to the eleventh hour, all you have is your word.” - Joann “Paradigm” Roberts
It’s been a year since Spitfire Poetry rose from the ashes. After the passing of founder and beloved community icon Clinton D. Powell, there was question on whether the spoken word troupe would be able to maintain its presence in Savannah under the direction of its new young leader, Marquice Williams. A year later, Williams has—definitely and deafeningly—answered the doubters.
The 21 year–old poet announced a dizzying new schedule for spitters this summer, including new 21 and over open mic sessions, ongoing slams and the continuation of family–friendly Spitfire Saturdays. While his intention will always be to fulfill Powell’s legacy of creating community through poetry, Williams knows that reinvention is the secret to success.
“I understand that these are very big shoes to fill,” assures Williams. “What I’ve learned over the last year is that I can try to create pair of my own.”
Fresh on the line–up is Baggage Open Mic, held on the second and fourth Sundays of the month at Billy’s Place on Drayton. For adults exploring the idea of reading their poetry out loud, this bi–monthly event promises a safe, non–judgmental enviroment to share.
“We called it Baggage because we want people to leave their baggage at the mike,” explains Williams. “When we hold on to stuff, our frustrations, whether it's sex or bills or a boss who won’t get off your case, it impacts how we live and interact with people. This is the place to come and let it out.”
For seasoned poets with a competitive streak, the action happens mid–week at the Yatta Gotta Lotta Wordz Poetry Slam, a high–energy performance contest where the audience is the judge and winners walk away with a cash prize. Still friendly but charged with a certain wicked flair, the slams have been well–attended according to Williams, who hosts the sometimes–raucous spitfests every second and fourth Wednesday at Yatta Yatta Bar & Lounge on MLK Blvd.
As if he isn’t busy enough tangling with poets in bars and writing his own poems, Williams has continued the all–ages Spitfire Saturday Open Mic & Showcase on the last weekend of each month. Poets of any age are invited to sign up, followed by a guest spoken word artist. This month’s showcase takes place this Saturday, July 28 and features Chicago–based poet Joann “Paradigm” Roberts.
Ms. Paradigm first gleaned Savannah’s spoken word scene earlier this year when she came to town to visit a friend. As is the poet’s habit, she sought out an open mic and encountered Williams after performing at the Sentient Bean. Prospecting the themes of self, relationships and loss in her poetry, she began writing when she was 13 but didn’t get on stage to speak out loud until she was in college.
“I began writing to express myself to get through certain issues and situations,” contemplates the 26 year–old wordsmith. “It’s all very personal.”
This June, she released her first book, The Pen Helps, in conjunction with a spoken word album, Redshifts. While some of the content overlaps, each contains different material, the book with its collection of haikus and the CD humming with Paradigm’s calm, sagacious rhymes.
Though she eschews the slam scene for more non–confrontational venues, her poem “Cliché Slam Piece” articulates the power that poetry had on her formative years:
I never walked around with guns or fists of fury/ I used to walk through the ‘hood with a dictionary...I used to commit felonies at spelling bees.
The Pen Helps and Redshifts are compilations of the first poems from the young poet, and publishing it as a body of work has been enlightening.
“I realized how I’ve been growing and learning for the last 13 years, and I needed to make room for more growth,” she muses. “I needed to publish my chapbook to transcend that chapter of my life."
Her new work is taking a “more spiritual tone,” and she continues to write and travel, visiting open mics around the country. She doesn’t remember how she got her nickname, but she’s been called Paradigm for five years.
“We all go through different phases and patterns in life, and I think it represents how people can shift,” she says of her nom de plume.
While Spitfire has experienced less of a paradigm shift and more of a hefty shot of adrenalin, the poetry scene has certainly kicked up a few notches around here. Williams vows that in 2013 he and his fellow spitters will bring back the Spoken Word Festival, the three–day poetry extravaganza once organized by Powell.
“We’re in charge of bringing up a whole new spoken word generation,” he promises. “It’s only going to get bigger from here.”
What: Spitfire Saturday Open Mic
When: Saturday, July 28 7:30 p.m. sign ups, 8 p.m. show
Where: Muse Arts Warehouse, 703 Louisville Rd.
Cost: $3 participants, $5 general