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The power of poetry
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Spoken word brings poetry to the people, and organizers of the Third Annual Savannah Spoken Word Festival expect this year’s event to be larger than previous festivals.
Sponsored by the Spitfire Poetry Group, it will be held April 27-29 at various venues (see our Week at a Glance section for a schedule).
The festival was started in 2005 by Spitfire founders Clinton D. Powell and RenaZance. RenaZance recently moved to Philadelphia, but will return to Savannah for the festival.
 “I’m still active with Spitfire,” he says. “I’m hoping to make a bridge between Savannah and Philadelphia and make people aware that Savannah is a huge spoken word community.”
The festival opens Friday, April 27 at 8 p.m. at the Metro Coffee House with Friday Nite Fix, an open mic. On Saturday, April 28, a youth poetry slam will be held 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at A.E. Beach High School, and an adult poetry slam will be held at 8 p.m. at The Sentient Bean.
On Sunday, April 29 at noon at The Sentient Bean, a brunch lecture will be presented by Sista V called History of Savannah Spoken Word. The festival will conclude at 8 p.m. with the Recognition Award Ceremony at 8 p.m. at the Tantra Lounge.
“We’re expecting a much larger crowd this year,” RenaZance says. “We’ll have a lot more participation by the kids, and we’re focusing on the family to make it more of a family event. Before, we had the adult slam late at night at a club, but this year it will be at The Sentient Bean, which is much more of a family venue, so families can come out and enjoy coffee and listen to poetry.”
This year’s featured spoken word poet is Samantha Raheem Thornhill, who will perform at the Recognition Award Ceremony. “The world always gives me so much to write about,” she says. “Sometimes I write from other people’s perspective, about the undercurrent of humanity.
Thornhill writes about “anything,” never limiting her subject matter. “Words inspire me,” she says. “Sometimes, learning a new word makes me want to write a poem.”
Born and raised in Trinidad-Tobago, Thornhill came with her family to the United States when she was seven. By age 11, she had started writing poetry.
“I knew from then what I wanted to do,” Thornhill says. “It determined my life.”
At age 16, Thornhill became the editor of her high school’s literary magazine, the aptly named Poetic Justice. After high school, she went to Florida State University on a scholarship and majored in creative writing, then later obtained a master of fine arts degree in poetry from the University of Virginia. Since then, Thornhill has traveled the country to present her poetry. Along the way, she has received the Cody Harris Writing Award, the Henry Hoyns Fellowship and the Provincetown Fine Arts Fellowship. A resident of Brooklyn, Thornhill is the program coordinator of the Children’s Aid Society in East Harlem.
Her own performance career is extensive. While at the University of Virginia, Thornhill coached the Virginia slam team, the Hampton Roads, for two years. But Thornhill’s true passion is writing.
“The writing process -- there’s nothing like it,” she says. “Performing is wonderful because you get attention and get asked to places like Savannah, but writing is my first love. It’s really hard for me to perform just for the sake of performing. I really need to produce new work to perform.”
Four years ago, Thornhill performed in Savannah. When she got an e-mail from Powell that invited her back, she quickly agreed to come.
“That’s how it works,” Thornhill says. “I’ll go someplace and five years later, someone will find a way to get me back down there.”
Spoken word is an important art form because it gives people insight into what the rest of the world is thinking, Thornhill says. “I live in New York City, where everything is congested,” she says.
“You walk through life, not really knowing what other people think. Then you go to an open mic and that’s when you get a pulse on what people are thinking.” ƒç
The Savannah Spoken Word Festival is April 27-29 at various venues (see our Week at a Glance section for a schedule).