When Anis Mojgani arrived in Savannah in 1995, as a fresh SCAD student, he found no outlet for his newly–minted interest in spoken–word poetry, and the competitive performances called poetry slams. During his last year in high school, in New Orleans, he’d become fascinated with the art form.
“I remember that an open mic would pop up here or there, but it never really lasted very long,” says Mojgani, now a resident of Portland, Ore. “I guess it was in my junior year that Sister Vee, she was a teacher at one of the schools in town, started a monthly open mic at Gallery Expresso, which was still on Liberty at that time. It was the first open mic in Savannah, to my recollection, that was consistent.”
Mojgani did his undergraduate work in sequential art, and earned an MFA in performing arts. By the time he left SCAD in 2002, he was a published poet, and would go on to win the National Poetry Slam two years running, and take the top prize in France’s 2007 World Cup Poetry Slam.
The flame that lit his fuse, he says, was Spitfire.
Clinton D. Powell, an actor and director who’d worked with the East Side Players and City Lights theatrical groups, formed Spitfire Poetry Group, Inc., in 2001 with a like–minded friend named Renazance, who has since moved away from Savannah.
Powell had – and still has – the soul of a poet.
“When I was with Upward Bound, way back then, I wrote poems for Mayor Rousakis,” he says. “And I wrote poems for every sitting mayor, or for some event, ever since back in high school. Everybody except for Susan (Weiner) – because nobody liked Susan anyway.”
Spitfire’s sixth annual Spoken Word Festival – consisting of performances, slams and competitions from young people and adults – takes place this weekend at the Sentient Bean.
Anis Mojgani headlines the event Sunday.
And he’s thrilled to be coming back. “I really, really enjoyed my time in Savannah,” Mojgani says. “It’s very dear to my heart. The person that I am today, as an individual and as an artist, a lot of it is rooted in my time being in Savannah. A lot of my voice was found in those years.”
Helping people find their voice is what Spitfire, which conducts classes and workshops in schools, churches and community centers, is all about.
I’m also a member of the Georgia Poetry Society,” Powell explains. “Often, I’m the only one like me sitting in the room.
“And sometimes, at that particular event, they really are just reciting poems that fit rhythm and rhyme, or a structured poem that they’re used to.
“And spoken word is very much about free verse. Sometimes it rhymes, sometimes it doesn’t. The main thing that it does is let out a lot of emotion. It’s often called performance poetry because the artists perform different things when they’re doing it.
“The difference is really in how it’s delivered. In the Georgia Poetry Society, they pretty much stay with the same rhythm, and follow through that. And that’s cool for some people. But in spoken word, you’re able to express more of what you were going through when you wrote that piece.”
“Spitting” is not only a creative outlet, Powell says, but – particularly for young poets – a way to vent certain emotions. “Whenever we do poetry workshops, we tell kids to use their hands to create, not to destroy. That’s the main thing we try to get across.
“You see your children, or your students, change once they’re able to let certain things out. We want to make sure they know that poetry is in everything; the way you walk, the way you talk – so whatever you need to do to get that off your chest, or to help you get through that moment, then please, do that.”
The “All Day Slam” is Saturday – it includes competitions for youth and adults, the latter hosted by spoken word prizewinner Queen Sheba. There is $500 in cash and other prizes at stake.
Sunday’s bill includes music, comedy, and spoken word performances by several artists – including Anis Mojgani.
Over the last few years, he’s appeared on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, in a Rattle magazine cover story, and in the documentary Slam Planet: War of the Words.
He admits he no longer sees spoken word performance as cathartic – he’s an adult artist with a clear vision – but he believes the stuff he’s writing now is his best yet.
“I don’t know if it was necessarily so much that when I was younger,” he says. “but there was definitely this need and this urgency to get out whatever was inside of me. Whatever creative spirit needed to come out through these words.
“There’s still that hunger, but it’s not as prevalent. I think it’s just sort of different. I often wish that I still had this fiery desire to get this stuff out – as opposed to ‘Well, it’ll happen when it happens. When I feel the urge and the love for it, it’ll come out.’”
Savannah Spoken Word Festival
Where: Sentient Bean, 13 E. Park Ave.
Friday, April 30: Friday Night Fix open mic at 7:30 p.m.; free
Saturday, May 1: Youth competition (11 a.m.); “Rough Language” adult competition (7:30 p.m.). Registration $10 youth, $25 adults. Admission is $8.
Sunday, May 21: So Long Sunday with Anis Mojgani and others. At 7:30 p.m.; admission $10
Info and registration: www.savannahspokenwordfestival.com