Phi Slamma Jamma

by Keith Barber

During the Bookmarks 2009 Festival of Books being held this Saturday in Winston-Salem, there will be a workshop that focuses not solely on the written word, but the transformation that occurs when words are spoken. “Slam Poetry: From Written to Spoken Word” will be held at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Garage, located at 110 W. 7 th St. Ismael Khatibu, the leader of the Piedmont Poetry Slam team, will serve as instructor. Khatibu hopes the workshop will help focus the spotlight on some of the many talented poets and slam artists in the area. “It’s about the transference of energy,” Khatibu said. “Energy is neither created nor destroyed, merely transferred. When someone comes to see a slam, that energy will be transferred and it will hopefully transform their lives. They will leave out of there with something that will help them in their daily lives.” Khatibu and longtime slam master Bob Moyer have endeavored to rebuild Winston-Salem’s poetry slam community brick by brick with monthly poetry slams at Krankies Coffeehouse off West 3 rd Street. After four competitions, Khatibu formed a team of talented writers and performers and traveled to the regional competition. Despite getting excellent individual performances, the team did not make the national competition. Eurydice White placed 10 th out of 62 competitors, and another team member, who simply goes by the moniker “Crosswordz,” finished in the top 20. Khatibu said the Charlotte team has set the standard for excellence by winning back-to-back national championships in poetry slam competition. “We’re trying to build up to that level,” he said. “There are a lot of talented people here in Winston-Salem, but they don’t even know what a poetry slam is.” So far, Khatibu and Moyer have assembled an impressive nucleus of poets and performance artists. Khatibu described White as perhaps the most talented slam artist in the area. White is also involved in a nonprofit arts initiative called “Gumbo” that holds regular performances at Krankies and other venues in the area. Khatibu praised Crosswordz for his willingness to listen and to constantly improve his poetry and writing technique. Team member Zac Hegwood recently left to pursue his education. As the only white member of the slam team, Khatibu said Hegwood brought a different perspective and tremendous writing talent to bear at competitions. Team member Nell Britton, a talented older performer, has served as a mentor to Khatibu. “I’ve learned a lot from her about being responsible to the community for what you do, and making your work impactful,” he said. “She helps out and gives me good advice on coaching and mentoring new members of the team. She’s the matriarch of the group.” In Terrance Nivens, Khatibu sees the future of the art of poetry slam. “At 17 years old, his command of the English language is amazing,” Khatibu said. “He has a very bright future, a very bright mind. A lot of people want to look down on the youth, but he is the perfect example of youth and what we have to look forward to.” At the heart of every poetry slam is the power of human experience, so Khatibu begins each competition with a plea to the audience. “I try to preface this when you start out at every event by saying, ‘You may not approve of everything you hear; you may not appreciate everything you hear, but all we ask is you extend your experience enough to grasp the poet’s experience and their idea of human possibility,’” he said. The purpose of Saturday’s workshop is to encourage writers and poets of all ages to take their thoughts and feelings from the page and transform them into a moment of truth on the stage, Khatibu said. “They will get something from the experience,” he said. “This is all about experience; experience brings stories and our stories are what bind us. Those are the building blocks of community — sharing stories.” Khatibu said the Piedmont Poetry Slam will diversify its lineup this fall with storytelling slams and other events to keep local audiences engaged. And that’s the key — keep the audience engaged. “There always has to be call and response,” Khatibus said. “There has to be a willing audience that wants to give something back. It’s about building a connection between the artist and the audience that can’t be broken.” Bookmarks annual Festival of Books is an annual free event held in Winston-Salem that focuses on both youth and adult literacy through readings, workshops, panel discussions, cooking demonstrations, and creative and interactive activities for children and teens. For further information, visit:

Ismael Katibu’s corps of slam poets perform at Bookmarks Festival ofBooks in Winston-Salem this weekend. (photo by Keith T. B arber)