In 1998, the poetry scene in Orlando was on a downward swing, music open-mics outnumbering the spoken word mics. The mixed media open mics allowed music to dominate over spoken word. This was when I started performing, cutting my teeth at these venues, developing my craft and voice. It was not a really well developed craft or voice, but it was something. Three years later, I began the Broken Speech Poetry Slam to give poetry proper attention in Orlando, to help me develop my craft and voice against talented individuals, filling a cultural vacuum.
In 2012, there is a poetry night almost every night of the week here in Orlando. When I can go to some of these nights, I always see the same faces at each show, with just a handful appearing at several shows. I also hear the same types of poems based on the venue (or the same poems), with no improvement in craft or voice.
There is a level of comfort in staying within the night you like. It lets you learn how to crawl, how to walk, before you learn how to fly. The final outcome of building your confidence at your preferred night is to then start cross pollinating into other nights, strengthening yourself in the presence of different eyes and ears; I’m not seeing that happen a lot here.
We’ve reached a point in Orlando once again where it’s a handful of names mentioned when it comes to poetry (my name included) and I do not know of any new and fresh poets when it comes to the spoken word aspect that could enter into that conversation and this is a tremendous concern on my part.
Earlier, my girlfriend and I went to Downtown Credo to see Anis Mojgani perform. There were two poets I was able to hear for the opening, both in the handful names mentioned. One did a couple of old poems but branched out with new work. One did poems heard countless amounts of time. A friend of mine before the performances mentioned that they missed the poetry scene. I said I didn’t. Watching the latter poet this afternoon reconfirmed how much I don’t miss it.
When this was a problem in 2000, I did something about it and that something lasted for ten years. There’s a part of me, that thing in my blood that wants to go back in and bring the slam back to life to push poets to do something new and different. Then, I look at There Will Be Words and the impact it has had in the last eight months and that feeling is quelled. I gave ten years of my life to poetry in Orlando; I don’t think I can give any more.
There is a growing youth slam movement here in Central Florida. I hope one of those kids when they grow up decides to continue doing what they love and shoulder the responsibility of starting and running a poetry slam for adults. I hope someone or someones get sick enough of the sameness they see, the same faces, the same poems where they do something about it that the solution isn’t to leave Orlando for Chicago, New York City, or San Francisco.
Let’s be clear – the state of Orlando’s literature movement is healthy, at least over at the prose side of things. Poetry though is not and I’m not the person capable of fixing this but I know someone out there is.