Performance poetry, as of late, has experienced a renaissance fueled by the energy and fervor of young bards who reject the constraints of traditional poetry forums. Far from the smoke-filled coffee shops where nihilists congregate to expound on the futility of life, these new performers are unabashed in their optimism and aim to make poetry a rock experience.
Leading this avant-garde movement is a dynamic troupe of poets – Word Core – who will perform in the Hub on Nov. 14, treating the crowd to a free evening of slam poetry. The four-member group – Big Poppa E, Eitan Kadosh, Gregory Hischak and Buddy Wakefield – fuse the energy of punk rock and hip hop with the cerebral insight of poetry to produce a powerful alternate form of expression.
“When you talk about poetry most people’s eyes just glaze over,” said Big Poppa E, the group’s founder. “What they have in their head is a really boring poetry reading where some self-absorbed wanker is up there reading poetry about his ex-girlfriend from a dog-eared notebook and mumbling into his papers. … Performance poetry breathes life into poetry. It breathes life right there in front of you – sweaty and hoarse and vibrantly alive.”
The level of energy Word Core aims to achieve in each of their shows is unparalleled in the poetry world. The group claims that the connection formed between performer and audience is unrivaled in any form of entertainment. They believe that if an audience chooses to participate in the poetry experience, they deserve to be engaged, not merely entertained.
“It really requires the audience to be an active participant in the show. I am trying to put to words some feeling that I have in my stomach,” Poppa E said. “You shout out because you recognize the feeling. … I hear that and then I know that I am reaching you, I’m touching you. That propels me to keep going. It becomes this call and response, this community. It becomes an instant community of people sharing the human condition through poetry.”
Word Core is a newly formed group but the members are veteran slam poets. All of them have been part of regional slam poetry teams that have performed in national competitions. Their visit to UCSB is part of a California tour of university campuses, with plans to expand their scope to a nationwide circuit in 2002. Then, whether the world is ready or not, Word Core hopes to go international.
“We have plans for global domination,” Poppa E said. “We are going to be like anthrax. We are going to be all over the place. You are not going to know where we came from. You are just going to know that we are on everything. People will be coming down with poetry coast to coast. It will be infecting everybody.”
But, at least for now, Word Core seems content to perform for a couple hundred college students screaming at the top of their lungs. Part of the troupe’s appeal seems to be the variety of material covered and, perhaps, some credit should be paid to the DJ mixing beats throughout the show.
Each member of Word Core brings a different element to the performance. According to Poppa E, he and Kadosh go for the butt and the groin, trying to get the crowd shaking before Hischak delves into more cerebral verse.
“The [college] audiences are just primed for anything,” Poppa E said. “Once you’ve got them to loosen up, they will follow you anywhere. Whether you are doing poems about gender, sexuality, racism, sexism, homophobia, politics, love, they will follow you anywhere. Plus, they instantly want to come up and share their work with you, because it is an empowering experience.”
Word Core’s desire to engage and connect with the audience reflects their broader social commentary on poetry. The group strives to deflate the pomposity of academic verse, and make the art form accessible and relevant to the everyday person.
“Poetry is the lens through which you look at life,” Poppa E said. “Everything is inspiration. The way somebody’s hair conditioner smells as they walk past you, boom – that’s a haiku. The way some little kid falls down on the ground and lifts himself up, scrapes the dirt off his knees and keeps on chasing after that butterfly, boom – that’s a poem.”
“We want people to see that poetry should be as common as salt. It is what you use to flavor your everyday life. It is the way that you look at life; the way that you keep track of life,” he said.