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Back pressed against the black wrought-iron chair, the eloquence left me breathless. I saw beauty in their vulnerability and felt power in their diction. The impact followed as I transitioned into that Thursday and found myself muttering lines still haunting me from the day before.
On October 3, The Blah Blah Blah Poetry Spot held their final slam, or poetry competition, at Deco Pizzeria to determine which two poets would represent the organization for the first time at the Texas Grand Slam Poetry Festival held in Bryan, Texas this weekend (Nov. 9 and 10). The audience scored the poet’s performances and determined local poet, Travis Snell and Austin-native Chucky Black the victors. The steady gazes, hushed praises and nail bitingly close scores of that night clearly illustrated that they too were affected by the words spoken.
San Antonio’s spoken word scene doesn’t usually appear in the front lines within the art community. Instead, it lingers in the background, patiently waiting for its call to action. Some local poets are hoping to trigger a response; through organizing the poetry collective The Blah Blah Blah Poetry Spot.
Blah, as its members fondly refer to it, was founded in January of this year by Paul Wilkinson and Christopher “Rooster” Martinez. Nondescript and nonexclusive, the poetry-centric spot encourages growth in local poets while striving for diversity.
“The name acknowledges what we strive for,” says Martinez. “It’s an idea that isn’t about us.”
The poets’ repertoire is expansive; sometimes serious, often hilarious and always entertaining. Topics include: Whataburger, moms, bulimia, alcohol, zombies, neighbors and of course a heavy dose of relationship and love poetry. These local artists, whose canvas is colored with the exhale of every breath, paint their pieces with genuine brush strokes, an idea Martinez best summarized in the closing lines of one of his poems:
“If you have but one thing to say, make it an honest one.”
Wilkinson and Martinez acknowledge that San Antonio is a city full of creative potential and want Blah to harness some of that energy.
“As a city, I feel like we have an identity crisis in a lot of ways,” notes Martinez. “I always joke that whatever your ethnicity, being in San Antonio has a way of making you Mexican. There are beautiful divisions in the multiculturalism in this city, though, which we hope to awaken. What San Antonio needs is more artists who are from here to stay here and push the city further.”
Deco Pizzeria, a venue whose owners fully embrace an artistic ideology, currently provides a haven for Blah. It houses poetry readings every other Wednesday at 8 p.m. and special events such as Blah’s Mixtape series.
The series attempts to reconnect poets with inspiration, challenging them to choose a song and write a poem in response. The minds behind Blah sift through a number of suggested inspiring musicians from Joplin to Tupac, Stevie Wonder to Nirvana, and then select the legend on which to venerate and praise via poetry. Last Wednesday, Bob Marley was selected and honored at Deco Pizzeria as local poets wrote pieces in response to his works including “Jammin,” “I Shot the Sheriff,” and “Redemption Song.”
Other venues that host poetry events include On the Half Shell Oyster Bar’s Puro Slam, Tost Bistro’s Soul Sessions, Uptown 78, Continental Café’s Second Verse, Inspirational Grounds and Bubblehead Tea’s Fresh Ink Youth Slam.
First-time Deco attendee Kelsey Valadez, a writer and arts advocate, attended Blah’s Marley event last week.
“I don’t think that many people know about spoken word or that we even have a community for it in San Antonio,” Valadez said.
A poet herself, Valadez was inspired after attending the mix tape series and now intends to read at the next Blah event.
“They inspire shifts in perspective,” she said. “What they do encourages people to embrace and engage everything they experience.”
Inspiration is a fluid concept that changes constantly and varies considerably from person to person – as any artist can attest to. Further evidence of this notion was found when I asked some of the Blah poets to recall how they began writing.
“Honestly, I started writing poetry to get chicks,” said Wilkinson. “I kept writing because it worked. But then I found out that it was also therapeutic.”
Martinez enjoyed storytelling as a child but didn’t begin slamming until the age of 27 when, in sharing his work, he found “that my experiences and ideas on life were shared by others and generally speaking, many people feel as awkward about life as the next person. Slam poetry has definitely re-routed my life’s trajectory,” he said.
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Rayner Shyne, on the other hand, simply loves performing. The self-proclaimed “attention whore” found his outlet at the age of 18 on the stage of Half Shell Oyster Bar and is now a staple during the Tuesday night slam. Despite their differences, these poets are bound to each other and their audience by their love of language.
Blah’s goals as an organization are multifaceted, with multiple fundraisers and various drives under their belts, the members of Blah clearly want to continue serving the community through their art.
The evening before Thanksgiving is one such example as it marks another effort to give back. Blah will be hosting a food and clothing drive at Deco and all items will be donated to The San Antonio Food Bank and SAMMinisteries. Blah is also talking with a church on the East side in the hopes of offering writing and performance workshops to children. Non-profit certification is undoubtedly on the horizon for these talented locals.
“We look to be conscious of the communities we come from,” said Wilkinson. “We want to make them better places.”
The current members of Blah include: Paul Wilkinson, Christopher “Rooster” Martinez, Diamond Mason, Travis Snell, Rayner Shyne, Nick Hernandez, Michael Gomez, J Alejandro, Tim Larabee and Anastacio Palomo.
Melanie graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in English with a Concentration in Professional Writing and a minor in Anthropology from the University of Texas at San Antonio in December 2011. Her current Marketing position at the local nonprofit organization ARTS San Antonio has afforded her the opportunity to further explore her love of the arts. She now spends her nights among local musicians, artists and poets – finding beauty in self-expression. You can contact Melanie through her Facebook.