COLUMBIA — To call what happened Thursday night at MU’s Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center a poetry reading doesn’t begin to capture the energy, passion and intensity of the four who performed there.
Georgia Me and her guests Tommy Bottoms, Abyss and Kelsy Davis, flaunted their verses at the “All I Need is One Mic” event sponsored by the Black Programming Committee.
“We’re not just trying to entertain,” senior chairwoman Brianni Nelson said about the committee’s first event of the school year. “We’re bringing something thought-provoking and interesting into the black community.”
The art form of spoken word, which began to gain popularity in the late 1980s, was just that. Spoken word is the practice of performing poetry and lyrics in an artistic style, occasionally with musical accompaniment. What sets it apart from just standing before a crowd and delivering a poem is that “you can really feel the words coming to life,” said Lauren Stewart, a freshman at MU. “It’s verbalized passion.” This is enhanced with the use of body language, like confident struts and hand gestures.
Stewart’s eyes were opened to poetry from her experiences working at a coffee shop, and as a fan of spoken word, she was elated when she found out Georgia Me was coming to MU. “I can’t wait until she gets here,” she said excitedly while waiting for the show to start.
Me is a native of Atlanta, a city she said is “more than strip clubs and crunk,” a subgenre of hip-hop. She has performed at venues including Da Poetry Lounge in Hollywood and has appeared on “The Today Show.” She has toured with Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam on Broadway, a production that arose from Simmons’ show, “Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry,” on HBO.
Me, who describes herself as a ghetto princess, opened with “The Promise Land.” It expresses her love of her hometown and includes the line “If Brooklyn is the heart of America, Atlanta has got to be the soul.”
Her last two pieces, which focused on love and respect for one’s self and others, were received with laughter, wide eyes and dropped jaws among the 40-50 listeners.
In “Full Figure Potential,” an account of a woman dealing with the issues of weight in America and learning to love who she is, Me raged:
“Out of money, lookin’ for a snack.
“Then I see Little Debbie’s face on a pack,
“Smiling, enticing me, inviting me to have a taste.
“With haste, I race to the destruction of my waist.
“As the sugar sets in, so does the disgust I feel ...”
It ends with the realization that the woman is beautiful in the eyes of God, and that she needs to love who she is. The poem was followed by “Niggods,” Me’s way of lifting up the spirits of black men from the struggles they face.
Tommy Bottoms preached of drug use in America — in his view, how there’s little difference between the “dope man” who works on a corner and the one who wears a white coat and stethoscope around his neck — the negativity associated with hip-hop and the consequences of capitalist consumerism.
He set the call-and-response atmosphere, in which the audience shouts a particular response to phrases in the poems. Me compared Bottoms to educator Cornell West because “he knows how to get people involved and to understand issues.”
Abyss and Kelsy Davis, who came with their instruments in tow, took a more musical approach.
Abyss nodded his head and tapped his feet to the rhythm of the tune coming from his blue acoustic guitar as he sang lyrics that reflect a man who has “lived through oppression and aims to elevate those who are misinformed.”
“We’re chasing things that don’t matter,” said Abyss, whose name is an acronym for A Bright Young Soul Searching. “It’s not a natural thing to do.”
He also backed up Davis’ performance by showing his skills on a red trumpet.
With closed eyes, Davis struck the keys of his silver keyboard and fervently sang, “I’ll do what you won’t do, and I’ll say what I want, because I’m bold.” To motivate members of the black culture, Davis said, it was necessary to be bold and get out messages that wouldn’t be seen in mainstream media.
“Be wary of male poets, ladies,” Georgia Me said jokingly about his second song, a tale of intense love. “They have the best game.”
To really feel the essence of spoken word, the creative and hypnotic styles of these artists needs to be experienced in person, Abyss said. “As times change, you need to find new ways. This is a new school approach, and it commands attention.”