Student poets aim to build community with new organization

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Student poets aim to build community with new organization

CW | Scarlet VanMeter


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When Jamarey Carter was a freshman at The University of Alabama, he saw a local poetry scene that was active and thriving. But after taking a break from college, he came back to find it hadn’t stayed that way. Knowing what the local poetry community could be, Carter and a few friends, including Jahman Hill, decided to found ASAP, the Alabama Student Association for Poetry.

Hill, ASAP’s vice president, said the organization is dedicated to building and maintaining a poetry scene in Tuscaloosa. One of the ways they plan to do that is by hosting a weekly open mic and poetry slam at Monarch Espresso Bar on Wednesday nights at 6:30. 

“There’s always been places that have tried to open open mics but no one really kept it up, so we’re hoping that this is the one that’ll be here to stay,” said Carter, a senior majoring in business administration. 

The format of the weekly event is based off a similar event at Denver Mercury Cafe in Denver, Colorado, Hill’s hometown. 

“The whole idea is that we get through everything as quick as possible,” said Hill, a second-year graduate student in communication studies and women’s studies. “Get people in and out…. They have a weekly slam and every Sunday and they have eight people on Open Mic, eight people on the slam, and they get through all of it in two hours and we were like, ‘We should try to do something like that,’ where it constantly gives you both an open mic and slam feel same week.”

The open mic and slam will also include featured poets from around the country. Last week’s featured performer was Steven Willis, a two time World Poetry Slam finalist based out of New York.

“I hope that it it draws attention to sort of a lost art,” Carter said. “I think spoken word in particular is one of the most underrated forms of art, and it’s one of the ones that’s most impactful, so I hope that it shows people what this is really about and inspires them…. I just want people to become aware of the art scene and know that it’s not something that’s sort of this ghost that you’re chasing. It’s real, it’s here and you can be a part of it.”

All of the founding members of ASAP are poets themselves and have competed in competitions on local, state and national levels and have writing and performed their own poetry for years. 

“It’s just a rush because you know whatever you’re saying is going to have an impact,” Carter said. “If you do it right it’s going to have an impact on somebody – positive, negative whatever, and that creates a lot of anxiety or fear, whatever you want to call it, that sort of tension, but being able to say it through a mic is sort of like breaking that threshold into something bigger or better than what it was previously… It’s catharsis in and of itself.”

The open mic section of the weekly meet-up at Monarch isn’t just for poets, Carter said. That part of the night is open to anyone who wants to share a talent whether it be rapping, dancing, art or even short stories under three minutes. Last week, a magician showed off a number trick involving the audience. 

ASAP also wants to reach out to local schools and libraries to host workshops and teach students, elementary through high school, about poetry and writing. 

“There’s a lot of kids out there that are like, ‘Oh I’m a rapper,’” said Jordan Williams, a sophomore majoring in computer science and the secretary of ASAP. “Music is poetry to a beat, to rhythm, so we want to show them like you can do something…. We want to show them that there’s other options to get out of Tuscaloosa or other ways to express yourself that they might actually feel like they need some permission, so we want to go and be like, ‘It’s okay to do this, to be a poet,’ and like reach out to them.”

Williams also said she encourages people to come even if they don’t want to share. The event, she said, is for poets and those who appreciate poetry alike. 

“If nothing else, I hope it impacts one person or it inspires one person at the very least to know that they’re not alone, that writing is an acceptable art form that can be expressed and that you can be successful at,” she said.