A lot of people avoid poetry like the Bubonic plague, thinking it’s only a past time for troubled teens and English-majors. But, believe it or not, you can write and read poetry too! A local community of poetry enthusiasts are reaching out to reconnect people with words and their creative spirits.
The Poet Rising Project seeks to spread the love of creativity through poetry, music and performance art. Whether it is written by pens on paper, or spoken aloud and shown through body language and facial expression, any art that comes from the heart is welcomed with open arms in this community. Through a combination of comprehensive workshops hosted throughout the area and a weekly “avant-garde” open-mic performance known as Rhythmic Cypher,the group has been bringing poetry into the lives of locals for over two years.
“Our goal is to create an open, safe space for any kind of artist to showcase their creativity,” says Tina Smith, co-founder of The Poet Rising Project and local spoken word poet. “We want to incorporate all of these different artistic mediums into one collaborative event in the community.”
Smith, also known as TLOVE, has been a member of the 2009 and 2012 Portland Slam Team, earned the title of Individual Slam Champion for Portland and has competed in several local, regional and national slam competitions. She was recently published by Moon Pie Press, a Maine-based, independent publishing company, in an anthology, “Passion and Pride: Poets supporting Equality” with various New England Poet Laureates. Her passion is to help people find and develop their own voices and creatively process life’s experiences.
Rhythmic Cypher features local spoken word poets accompanied by local musicians. The musicians often improvise behind the spoken word, creating a one-of-a-kind performance every time. The event usually features a well-know poet, whether local or traveling, who performs his or her own 30 minute set in addition to the open mic. Upcoming featured poets include Portland Poet Laureate, Bruce Spang, and National Poetry Slam finalist, John Survivor Blake.
Poetry slams are held monthly, pitting poets against each other in several timed-rounds of readings to be judged by a non-biased audience member. Themed slams are also held occasionally. The most frequent is the more limited Haiku Slam and the NERD Slam, which includes the geekiest poetry ever imagined. There is a performance every Sunday, and a full schedule of events can be found online on the official Poet Rising Project page. Anyone is welcome to come watch and participate.
Finding a regular venue for the poetry readings has been a task for The Poet Rising Project as of late. Rhythmic Cypher originally touched down at Slainte Wine Bar & Lounge on Preble Street and was hosted there until this past August.
“We wanted to find a venue that was more accessible for our under-aged crowd,” says Smith.
After bouncing around various venues for the past several months, they have found a new home at Dobra Tea, a tea house located at 151 Middle St. in Portland’s Old Port. The group’s nomadic state this summer has actually helped increase attendance at all performances, regardless of the venue. Picking up a collection of new followers recently, creative minds come from all over to get involved, following the Cypher wherever it may go, as curious new attendees become regular fans. The number of attendees isn’t through the roof, but attendance has been rising steadily and Smith is hopeful for the future.
“[Rhythmic Cypher] is my poetry home,” says Rhythmic Cypher co-host and published poet, Kayla Wheeler. “We’re creating a stronger poetry community in Portland.”
The audience is a diverse one. The performances draw artists of all ages and backgrounds out of the woodwork and onto the stage, from high school students just learning the craft to experienced veterans who have been looking for a group to share their work with.
The creative atmosphere of Portland seems to be the best setting for the group.
“This area is so loving,” says sophomore Crystal Farrington, an English major at the University of Southern Maine and regular spoken word performer. “I have a family here in Portland now. Everyone is so wonderful and loving to me.”
Farrington has been a featured performer at Rhythmic Cypher. She also participates in Slam Free or Die in Manchester, N.H. and her regular reading, Port Veritas, right here in Portland[where in portland?].
“I can’t miss a weekly reading,” says Farrington.
As poets continue to take the stage and speak their minds, the scene is starting to grow. Poetry readings offer artists a way to express themselves openly in a relaxed, comfortable environment. These local readings also serve as a jumping off point for those wishing to make a career out of poetry, helping to offer opportunities to compete on a regional and national level, and even tour in some cases. Portland may be a a serious location in the poetry world in years to come.
“The buzz around poetry has been growing here for a while,” says Smith. “We’re all very excited for the future.”