Multi-sensory Poetry Show
By Melody Stone for the Eureka Reporter
It wasn’t too long ago that Vanessa Pike and Therese Keslin-Fitzmaurice decided to start a poetry slam, and since then, it’s been a whirlwind of events, show, tours, competitions and even a book.
Pike and Keslin-Fitzmaurice helped found the poetry collective known as A Reason to Listen. Keslin-Fitzmaurice worked with Pike and other youth poets, coaching them in slam poetry style for competitions around the country. Competitions took them all the way to the Apollo Theatre in New York. They called it “The Brave New World Slam Team” and placed 10th out of 50 teams.
“We felt really good about it,” said Pike.
Of being on stage at the Apollo with three other big-city groups, Pike said, “We proved ourselves as worthy poets (that night).”
Pike said that much of the time when she says she’s from Eureka, people don’t think she has anything important to say. “If I say I’m from New York people would think I have ‘street cred’ experience, but from Eureka, that’s not even on the map.”
Their good showing at the Apollo gave Pike and Keslin-Fitzmaurice the drive to keep it up. Shortly after that tour, Pike and Keslin-Fitzmaurice started writing grant proposals and putting on poetry slams at the Accident Gallery in Eureka. They were awarded a grant to write a book of poetry titled “Excavating the History of Love.” They took the book on tour, creating a multisensory show with dance, live art, poetry and music over the summer of 2007.
Since August, they’ve been preparing for their biggest show of the year, “A Series on Light and Dark.” A Reason to Listen, consisting of poets, artists and musicians, will present a theatrical event on Feb. 6 at the Accident Gallery. Slam poet R(H)IPS, of Los Angeles, will be performing, along with a video DJ.
“It’s great to have images flashed behind you while you perform,” said Pike, adding that she is very excited for this show. The theme was born out of her personal fear of the dark and learning to overcome that fear one year ago at age 20.
“So many people are afraid of the dark,” said Pike. “What people forget is that we came from the dark … and this night is about embracing that.”
She said her fear of the dark ate her alive, and she wants her experiences to inspire others to deal with their fears, and that’s what this show is about.
Pike’s poetry style is steady and intentional. Each word is chosen carefully; meaning upon double meaning is coupled with vivid imagery and strong emotions. She starts with a blue lullaby and speaks of panic and fear of the dark.
Poetic styles vary as much as personalities. Fellow slam poet Brad Wilson has a fast, punchy style that makes one wonder how all those words even fit in his mouth let alone come out as audible thoughts.
Keslin-Fitzmaurice, who is pregnant, said she has been pleased to see Pike take on the main leadership and organizational roles in planning this show. “It’s been nice for me because I can just show up and be a poet and perform instead of being a poet and an organizer … and pregnant.”
Her pregnancy might slow down her organizing involvement, but the experience of being with child has inspired the poet to explore motherhood and birth. She said the theme of light and dark plays into her pregnancy because birth is a first introduction to light.
In addition to individual pieces, there will be live art, theater and group poetry.
Arnold King, of McKinleyville, will be doing one piece about night and day and man and woman with Pike. “It’s going to be outrageously funny,” King said.
“I thought this was a good opportunity to do something with my poetry,” said King. “I’ve always liked writing poetry, but I never really do anything with it. I randomly ran into Vanessa at Sears ... and the rest is history.”
King said he likes writing because you can do it anywhere. He writes when he is waiting or on a break at work. “It’s something you can do whenever.”
A Reason to Listen hosts a poetry slam on the second Thursday of every month. A slam works like a competition. Attendees are given a paper to score the poets on a scale of one through 10, and the poets have three minutes to perform. Going over the time limit results in a penalty. The poet with the highest score at the end of the night wins.
The winning poets will be selected for the poetry team, which travels to competitions. Competitions are funded by the $5 entry fee for the poetry slams. The next slam will take place on Valentine’s Day and its theme will be love.
“We’ve had packed shows every month,” said Keslin-Fitzmaurice, adding that she feels very blessed and honored by the response. “It’s just exciting to see so many people interested in poetry.”