Guest Post by J. Bradley
A lot of people in the slam community credit Paul Devlinâ€™s SlamNation as a catalyst for them to get off their asses and start a slam in their town, be a slam poet in their town, or both. Â The documentary inspired me to strive toward becoming a literary rock star, which Iâ€™m still working on. Â My catalyst in starting the poetry slam here in Orlando came in response to a letter the Orlando Weekly published by performance poet Sandra Monday in 2000, who lamented the conversion of Java Jabbers into Back Booth and Orlandoâ€™s lack of culture.
Put Back Booth on back burner and get involved – (Orlando Weekly: 9/14/2000)
Regarding the letter from Sandra Monday [â€śBeat doesnâ€™t go on at Back Booth,â€ť Sept. 7]: Over the last five years venues and weekly programs for poetry have diminished exponentially in Orlando. Â We used to have the Yab Yum, Java Jabbers, Stardust, Performance Space Orlando and other locations. Â Now poets are relegated to scattered open mikes in family bookstores. Â Isnâ€™t Orlando supposed to have the culture of a burgeoning metropolitan area?
Unfortunately, Orlando as a whole feels the need to be more attractive to transient citizens than to those who live here day in and day out. Â Do most of us want our city to be famous for theme parks and boy bands? Â No.
We need a major art/literary movement to awaken the minds of the 180,000 plus citizens of this town. Â We need the world image of Orlando to be broadened. Â All major cities have culture. Â Look at New York, Chicago, San Francisco. Â All of them have a national, if not international, recognition of their advances in all forms of art and culture. Â Why canâ€™t we share the same prestige?
There are a brave few who try to bring culture to our city. Â Some of them include Victor Perez and Patrick Scott Barnes. Â But they canâ€™t do it alone.
And there are those who complain about the lack of culture and do nothing. Â Those who do nothing and complain donâ€™t deserve to complain.
And this all comes back to you, Ms. Monday. Â I have read two letters making similar complaints in the Weekly, yet I donâ€™t see you taking action to change things. Â Iâ€™m making the rounds. Â Iâ€™m seen around town, and Iâ€™m the managing editor for a publication that promotes free ideas and culture, ironically sponsored by the Sentinel. Â Iâ€™m trying to make Orlando a better place. Â I know you, and others like you, can as well. Â All you need to do is DO SOMETHING.
J. Bradley, Managing Editor
A month after that was published, I got my local English honors fraternity to help me start a poetry slam on UCFâ€™s campus. Â After, I quit my managing editor internship and focused on starting the Broken Speech Poetry Slam. Â The IndePENdent folded, eventually. Â The slam turns ten next week. Â I think I made the right call.
Starting a show is tough. Â Maintaining it week in, week out, month in, month out, is excruciating, but the sense of community it creates and the art it brings out makes the agony and the heartache worth it. Â In 2000, the poetry scene was watery at best. Â Now, we have amazing performance and writing talent in people such as Tod Caviness, Brendan Earl (you may know him as Ronin), Curtis Meyer, Shawn Welcome, and rising talent in Alex Ruiz and Sam Lamura. Â We went from being smacked around left and right by bigger, badder cities at the National Poetry Slam, to holding our own, to beating those bigger, badder cities. Â Weâ€™ve got an open mic devoted to poetry almost every night in Orlando. Â Itâ€™s safe to say poetryâ€™s healthy in this town and I can take some comfort I have something to do with that.
What gives me more hope in the cultural health of this city though is seeing the writers that came from here or migrated here making a splash in indie lit world, such as Laura van den Berg, Timothy Dicks, and Lindsay Hunter; and that Burrow Press is giving it a go in indie lit publishing here; having cool neighborhoods like The Milk District, and more art galleries like Neon Forest popping up around town. Â Weâ€™re not there yet, but in comparison to where Orlando was in 2000-2001, weâ€™ve come a long way.
Iâ€™ve made a lot of mistakes doing this, I wonâ€™t lie. Â Iâ€™ve alienated people, been an unjustifiable asshole at times, but Iâ€™ve learned a lot from these hard lessons and overall, I think I deal with people better in running the slam and in life.
What can you do to make Orlando even better in the next ten years? Â Do something. Â You donâ€™t have to slam, you donâ€™t have to write, you donâ€™t even have to be artistic, you can still do something. Â Support your local arts, tell people about the cool stuff you saw, take part in the things that go on around you. Â Do something, something small or something large. Â Do something. Â Orlando has enough haters. Â We donâ€™t need one more.
In ten years, Iâ€™ll still be here. Â Maybe Broken Speech will be around still and we’ll get to talk again on its twentieth birthday, maybe it wonâ€™t be. Â All I know is while I live in this city, I will do what I can to make it better. Â What are you gonna do?
J. Bradley is the SlamMaster of the Broken Speech Poetry Slam, which takes place every Third Thursday at Stardust Video & Coffee around 9:30 or so. Â The slam will celebrate its tenth birthday at The Cameo Theatre on January 27, featuring the No More Ribcage Tour and a three-round poetry slam. Â Check out J. Bradley at iheartfailure.net.