Poetry slam in full force
By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer
|The last Wordstew poetry slam, about a month ago, drew crowds eager to hear the words of poets and poets at heart. The next slam takes place Thursday at Kewalo Music Studios.
Wordstew poetry slam
7-11:30 p.m. Thursday
Kewalo Music Studios, 1008 Kawaiaha'o St.
$5 donation requested at the door
843-1390 or firstname.lastname@example.org
That's the formula Jesse Lipman is banking on, to create a place and space for performance poetry in Hawai'i, where the arts scene is fragmented but overflowing with talent.
"I like to do this, to bring people together, to create a community, to build a local arts scene," he said. "I do my part in that."
Lipman is the driving force behind Wordstew, a poetry slam he organizes and finances on his own. The purpose is to encourage the flow of words, the energy of poetry and the camaraderie among artists.
"Jesse has genuine desire to create venues for performance artists, poets, storytellers and musicians who just want to share their stuff for the sake of sharing their stuff," said Lisa Linn Kana'e, local poet and frequent slammer, who will be reading a short story at Thursday's Wordstew at the Kewalo Music Studios. "What I admire most about Jesse is his generosity. The guys really puts a lot of energy into keeping Wordstew brewing e-mail, networks, fliers, finding space, contacting writers, performance artists, storytellers, musicians. That's a lot of work, and yet Jesse is always positive, low-key and humble."
The slam is open to anyone with a penchant for poetry and the urge to perform. Lipman asks that performers bring three original poems whatever content and style, to music or in silence and courage enough to speak their minds to an audience that speaks theirs back.
"Poets get up in your face and say what they want," said Lipman, who's originally from Chicago, where slams are more frequent and hardcore. "The audience can respond however they want to. But (in Hawai'i) it's been real positive. People really appreciate the poets. That's the best thing about it. Keeps me going. The quality of performances is really strong. There's a good crowd and a good energy."
He recalled the first poetry slam he organized last summer, highlighted by thundershowers and buckets of rain.
"I remember sitting there, the slam was supposed to start and it was pouring rain," he said. "There were 10 people there, and I was wondering if it would really come off. But we keep going with it, and when I looked up in the middle of the slam, about 9 p.m., I realized it was packed. All the poets came through. I looked up and saw legs hanging out over the balcony and steps. Feeling that good energy and creativity that was present at the time, that was a memory."
Since then Wordstew has attracted about 100 people at every event, with about 15 artists performing everything from spoken word to freestyle rap.
A poet himself, Lipman understands how important it is for artists to have that creative space. He barely breaks even on the slams, asking for a $5 donation at the door to help pay for the band and the venue rental. He calls it "recycling" the money. Whatever money comes in goes right back into the slams.
But juggling family life and a full-time job as a master control operator at KIKU-TV with organizing poetry readings and slams leaves him little time to write poetry himself. But somehow he finds the time. Mostly because he needs to.
"I have to do poetry," Lipman said. "It's a release for me as an artist. If I don't write for a couple of weeks, I feel frustrated and that reminds me to write again. I don't think I'm a great poet, but I'm a good poet. My energy right now is focused on providing venues and featuring poets."
And his dedication doesn't go without notice.
"He has a real interest in and concern for the local lit scene," Kana'e said. "He gets involved. He hand-delivers fliers. He goes to committee meetings. He makes anyone interested in lit/performance art feel welcomed. He encourages artists to participate. He walks da walk."