Word play: Piedmont Slam’s open mic event showcases local talent

by Keith Barber

Nell Brittain performs her poem entitled “Cotton” during the open mic segment of Piedmont Slam at Krankies Coffeehouse in Winston-Salem on Dec. 17. (photo by Keith T. Barber)

A young man bearing a plaster cast on his right arm strolled nonchalantly through Krankies Coffee Werehouse and took the stage, leaving the standing-room-only crowd to wonder about his true identity. Introduced only as “Santos” by poetry slam master Ismael Khabitu, the young man sidled up to the microphone beneath the dual 100-watt light bulbs illuminating the stage.

“The more you come up here, the less you know what’s going to come out of your mouth,” Santos said. “I’m moving real slow but very intentional, and determined to share my light.”

Santos’ sentiment summed up the overarching feeling that infused Piedmont Slam’s spoken word event on Dec. 17. He then began to sing his poem, “Critical Thinking,” and the captive audience listened with rapt attention, hanging on every verse.

Sometimes we’re so oh competitive to be repetitive; Monkey see, monkey do; No need to think ‘cause I’m following you; What happened to originality, authenticity? ‘Cause these days all I see is mobsters and pop-tarts; For a quick fix, spit anything just to get a rise on the charts; If you’re not from the streets, let go of the ignorance and immorality; Projecting phallus in your fantasy; And if you know a little bit, then you’ve got opportunity; You can go places and see things that your people, your family, your friends can only dream; So work towards your dreams and do what you got to do in between; But trust they don’t need no more robots to build their machines; See we’ve all got our paths to find and we’ll finish in our own time; But as you’re walking there, look for me on the outside; You won’t find me ‘cause I’m not this car, I’m not these shoes, I’m not this job, I’m just paying my dues; See, I love true people that are spiritually in tune; Strive for holistic living down to the right foods; They say you are what you eat, who you cling to; Now, you don’t have to listen and no, I’m not judging you;

But I’m going to keep spitting as the truth flows through; This is critical thinking, are you seriously thinking about the world that you just stepped into?

And so it flowed for nearly two hours, with one spoken word artist after another keeping the positive vibe alive inside Krankies. Some of the slang used by the spoken word artists could be quickly discerned. According to Google. com, one of the definitions of “spit” is to utter with anger or contempt. In the world of poetry slams, “spit” apparently means to utter with every emotion in the human spectrum.

A group of diverse performers elucidated the rainbow of artistic expression, and made concrete the notion that no one has a monopoly on wisdom. The audience, many of them sitting Indian-style on the floor, became the beneficiary of enlightenment through tales of erotica; challenging pieces like “Questionnaire” by the artist called “Sun” and “Yesterday” by Alexander, the Simple One; a reading of a famous work by poet Saul Williams; a recollection of a personal confrontation, a counter-intuitive piece entitled “Cotton” by veteran slammer Nell Brittain; and musings on the dreams of cows.

As the evening wore on, the space inside Krankies assumed the glow a family holiday gathering.

“It’s about building community,” Khabitu said. Then Khabitu leveled the audience with his untitled poem about unrepressed anger.

Let me start with an apology; A heartfelt sorry only to be seen when the floodwaters are receding; The line in the sand pulsates with the scent of my fathers; The one grain that moves my world is thrown back at tidal waves; The drumbeat of the shore dies in the water’s froth; My truth emerges from its enclave, and I hate you… A grain of truth emerged as each new performer seized the opportunity to speak up. The audience — entertained, enlightened and provoked to a greater awareness — eventually turned out into the frigid, December air a little better for the experience.

For info about upcoming events, check out Piedmont Slam online: