by Liltera R. Williams
The excitement of a strategically organized stanza being brought to life on stage is unexplainable. One can only assess the power of Spoken Word Poetry by witnessing it firsthand. We have Marc Kelly Smith to thank for discovering and nurturing such a mighty form of self-expression at Chicago’s Green Mill Tavern almost 23 years ago.
What exactly is Spoken Word Poetry though? It cannot be technically defined, but it can be summed up in one word, rap. R.A.P. is an acronym that has been formulated to stand for Rhythm and Poetry, a correlation between Hip Hop schematics and one’s own personal feelings.
For Matthew “Cuban” Hernandez, Spoken Word Poetry is more than just an outlet to convey a personal message or experience. It is a safe house where only his opinions and thoughts matter, an escape to a nonjudgmental zone that he calls home. Cuban was introduced to poetry at the age of 13 and competed for the first time at 15 after meeting Verbal Inc., a group of slam poets who informed him about open mic events and the national Southern Fried Poetry Slam competition. Since then, he has found ways to make his mark on the poetry scene both locally and worldwide. At the age of 17, Cuban created his own youth poetry organization and label, Shattered Thought (www.shatteredthought.org) and has sense partnered with Greenhouse Poetry (www.greenhousecommunication.org), an organization that sponsors the writing workshops that he conducts five days a week at local schools and community centers.
Although Cuban describes Jacksonville’s poetry scene as, “not great but good, with a pretty established following,” he still remains active and relevant through word of mouth promotion, heavy execution of email/contact lists and various social networking sites such as Facebook. Cuban also co-hosts The Cypher Open Mic Poetry and Soul at Cafe 331 every first and third Thursday of each month along with coaching Jacksonville’s Brave New Voices poetry slam team. Brave New Voices, presented by Youth Speaks Inc., is the largest poetry slam competition in the world for youth ages 13-19. Cuban’s team has competed each year for the past four years and placed 4th in last year’s competition, making the semifinals twice and the final stage once. At the ripe age of 22, Cuban holds the record as the youngest coach to lead his team to the final stage of competition, but his ultimate goal is to get the city of Jacksonville behind the youth poetry movement with emotional and financial support by means of fundraising, grants, donations and partnerships. He believes that a solid home base would strengthen the amount of youth looking for a different outlet such as poetry to express themselves.
Cuban’s latest endeavor involves leading a bi-monthly night of Jazz fusion, putting on explosive literary performances while celebrating jazz music, musicians and poetry at The Cummer Museum of Arts & Gardens’ Jazz ABZ Exhibit. The Jazz ABZ Exhibit features jazz musicians from A (Louis Armstrong) to Z (Dizzy Gillespie) and is based on the Jazz ABZ book created by artist Paul Rogers and legendary Jazz Musician Wynton Marsalis. The book highlights jazz musicians through visually enticing portraits, showcasing each musician’s piece of work as it relates to their individual style and sound. Cuban will be joined by poets from his 2009-2010 Jacksonville Brave New Voices poetry slam team. The poets will read their own work as well as selected poems from the Jazz ABZ collection to live instrumentation, setting the vibe for a jazz feel and a vivid interpretation of the paintings.
Enjoy the experience Tuesdays, May 4 and July 6, 7:00- 8:00PM. Free. For a complete schedule of classes, concerts and poetry events, please call (904) 355-0630.
Poetry – Speak It!
by Liltera R. Williams