Review: Unspoken Word

Unspoken Word Open Mic

King Dusko

Charleston, South Carolina


I was late, as usual. Trying to cook dinner before I go somewhere is always a bad idea if punctuality is key. I’ll never learn, though.

Despite our late departure and the bizarre wind that was going on outside, we hopped on our bikes and headed down to King Dusko, a relatively new coffee shop by day, wine/beer bar by night (plus art gallery all the time?), where the open mic I read about a few weeks ago was happening

The interior of the coffee shop/bar is marked by white walls that are covered in art and an eclectic array of chairs and tables. The wine and beer selection is small but curated; I have yet to try their coffee. For the open mic, they had a small stage and had rearranged the seating around it. It was a very informal atmosphere, relaxing and welcoming, which was good, since walking in after an open mic has already started is never an ideal situation. There’s no way to get in there without people realizing you were late. Plus, you just have to face the fact that you’re going to have to struggle for a seat.

And so it was when my roommate and I carefully tiptoed inside. The poet onstage was reciting something that sounded like an open letter to America type of piece, which was actually the best we could hope for–there was a lot of crescendoing of volume as we tried to inconspicuously grab chairs near two friends we were meeting.

But then, we were settled, and even with the wild wind and the whirlwind of the previous thirty minutes, I found it easy to mellow back to that familiar setting of poet, microphone, stage and words.

The first thing I noticed: how young! Charleston is a college town, I realize, but the average age of this poetry open mic was surely around twenty, which is fine, just not exactly what I first expected, coming from Atlanta’s Java Monkey venue. The bimonthly event is fairly new–one of its organizers told me they had their first event in December 2013. The emcees are certainly energetic, though–especially when it comes to their call-out/tagline (Leave no word UNSPOKEN)–and the poets/audience attentive.

As for the quality of the work, it, as might be expected, varied. I hesitate to go into much of a critique because open mics are first and foremost about sharing work that is important to the writer, and many of the young poets who got on stage spoke from a very authentic place. Anyone can appreciate the dedication they put into their verses, and listening to these pieces opened little windows into the writers’ lives that was truly enriching. (And I can honestly say, I had no moments of uncomfortable seat-squirming–you know what I’m talking about.)

Now, with some of the poets who were more experienced, I feel I can be a bit more critical. One of the emcees had good poetry, but his delivery was difficult to understand–his pace got too fast, and his words weren’t enunciated well enough. The other emcee’s first piece wasn’t my cup of tea, but the piece he recited from memory toward the end of the evening that was originally written as a page poem was quite beautiful. Even with his halting beginning (he had some trouble pulling up the piece from memory–but he fully recovered, which is always impressive), the three-part piece was easily the best I think I heard that night.

Overall, the variance between poets was probably the most intriguing aspect of this open mic: one played with his cadence to emphasize his rhymes, which didn’t always include the entire word; another was a page poet whose piece dove into the complications of a romantic relationship. I hope it stays this way as the event continues–it would be a shame if everyone started to sound like the same spoken word artists,though  obviously some of that will begin to happen as people gather momentum from being at the open mic itself.

The event definitely has the feeling of still getting its feet on the ground, but the organizers seem dedicated to opening up the Charleston poetry scene–they made several announcements about other events and had the organizers of other open mic venues come and read. On my next visit, I hope to speak to them more so I can add a coda to this piece with more background information.

In the meantime, King Dusko’s website and the Charleston Poets website will have the most up-to-date information on the days the open mic is happening. If you’re in the area on one of the days, it’s worth your while to stop in.

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March Monthly Round Up

Here are some articles that we thought were pretty interesting in the month of March!

1. All Aboard the Trainwreck Residency!!Poetry Foundation
This is a follow up one of the articles we found interesting last month. We said we should keep tabs on Amtrak’s resident writer program, and here’s what we found!

2. 10 Authors from Georgia You Should Read Now — Paste Magazine
Our helpful web/IT guy found this article about Georgia writers. Since we’re all originally from GA here at I&A, we wanted to spotlight some local writers.

3. 12 Excellent True Stories by Authors of Color — Bookriot
This is a great list of other authors of color to look into while you’re working on this issue’s prompt.

4. Eating and Drinking Poems: Mary Oliver’s “The Mango” — Tweetspeak
Who doesn’t love a good food/lit article?

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Contributor Interviews: Vol. 1 Issue 1 (part 2)

With the recent release of our Vol. 2 Issue 1 prompt, we wanted to again put the spotlight on our past contributors, namely the writers who made our inaugural issue  pairing of Robert Frost and Sarah Orne Jewett so great. Get to know their background, writing influences, and even suggestions for a future issue of I&A. This is the second of two posts featuring interviews with a couple of those writers. The first post can be found here.

Today, we share Casey FitzSimons’ and Daniel Barbare’s interviews. We recommend re-reading their contributions before you read their responses.

Casey FitzSimons wrote “Crisp, the morning in April.

1) How would you describe your writing education/background?

I  have taken courses at Stanford, in community colleges on the San Francisco peninsula, and at The Writing Salon, which has locations in San Francisco and Berkeley. My real education began with my father, though, who was a Milton buff, and who had a lot of poetry on his bookshelves.

2) What author/poet (s) would you say have most influenced your writing?

Housman, Yeats, Keats, Frost, Auden, Longfellow, Kipling, Shakespeare … those were on my father’s shelves. I only read bits of Milton. Later, I discovered Dickinson.

3) How do you think your work relates to this issue’s poet/writer combination?

Well, I think it has some of the content and form attributes of Frost’s “Out, Out—,” the story of the boy sawing wood, who is called to dinner, and does an injury to his hand that proves fatal. In that poem, Frost draws cinematic contrasts between the beauty of the day, the mountains, the smell of the wood, against the arduousness of work, its danger, and the stoic acceptance of the boy’s death. My piece, “Crisp, the morning in April,” also deals with a grisly accident on a lovely day, but it involves a much younger child, and I leave the causes and consequences completely out of the poem since I think those are the obvious aspects of this event. I wanted to concentrate on the course of events leading to the harm, emphasizing their beauty and the child’s lack of awareness of sudden injury and death. It has a 5-stress line, if not exactly iambic pentameter, and is continuous without stanzas, like Frost’s poem, told with suppressed emotion, a story.

4) If you could meet any poet (author), current or past, who would it be? (And why?)

I’d rather read their work than meet them. What poets have to offer they have left behind (or will). If we’re bringing people back to life for this purpose, I certainly wish there were more of John Keats, Edward Thompson, Wilfred Owen, or Sylvia Plath, to name a few.

5) What does your writing process look like? Initial/edits/revisions?

It  varies. Sometimes a poem almost writes itself, and I just tweak a few things. “Crisp, the morning in April” is one of those. Others go through numerous changes. Some idea just occurs to me, and the form of the poem in sound and shape on the page often arrives at the same time. Sometimes I swap chunks around, other times I cut out many lines, or decide to reveal a relationship or circumstance whose mystery made early drafts incomprehensible. If my theme wanders, I divide it into more than one poem (and sometimes the weaker one just dies). Always I listen to the words, study the line breaks, until I have a good balance of meaning, sonority, suspense, and flow.

6) What, if any, types of writing exercises do you like to use?

I don’t do well writing from prompts or keeping a journal. Once in a while, if I’ve been inspired by another poet’s reading, I’ll buy his or her chapbook. At each poem I ask myself, what event or circumstance in my own life has evoked these feelings. Often, that meditation begets a poem, but it will be nothing like the instigating poem in form or content, and often “lands” in a completely different emotional space. It’s a sort of loose ekphrasis, I guess. Important experiences in my life, often that I’ve already written about, are good sources of poems, too. I have poems about the same circumstance written with different factual emphasis, different points of view with different degrees of omniscience or ambivalence.

7) Are you working on any new projects? If so, could you elaborate on them?

Every year I assemble a collection of work from the past several months, so I have a number of self-published books and the list keeps growing. I think about creating theme-based selections, but it doesn’t hold my interest because I always feel there will be more to say on the topic and my primary job is simply to keep writing poems.

8) If you were to choose the next I&A poet/writer pairing, who would you choose?

I think Emily Dickinson would be a great choice. Her style and content are both distinctive.


Daniel Barbare wrote “An Old Woodstove.

1) How would you describe your writing education/background?

I have attended many workshops over the years. I have worked with such poet laureates as Bennie Lee Sinclair and Fred Chappel. I have been writing poetry for approximately 33 years.

2) What author/poet (s) would you say have most influenced your writing?

Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Emily Dickinson, and Mary Oliver have influenced me as poet, just to name a few.

3) How do you think your work relates to this issue’s poet/writer combination?

It is mostly the subject matter, but also the same rhythm and form of writing.

4) If you could meet any poet (author), current or past, who would it be? (And why?)

Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, or Emily Dickinson just because I think it would be interesting and the style of my writing.

5) What does your writing process look like? Initial/edits/revisions? What, if any, types of writing exercises do you like to use?

I mostly recite my poetry. And when I feel ok with that I begin to put it down on paper. Not as though I have always composed a poem this way, it is just the way I have done it lately.

6) Are you working on any new projects? If so, could you elaborate on them?

Right now, I’m just continuing to publish as much as I can and write as often as possible. And read poetry along the way. I’m busy believe me. I spend about 3 to 4 hours a day writing, reading, and publishing.

7) If you were to choose the next I&A poet/writer pairing, who would you choose?

Emily Dickinson would probably be my choice. I’m just interested in her way of writing. Also because my poetry is short and to the point.

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