Rhode Island Spoken Word: This Is not Your Professor’s Poetry by Christoper Johnson

Rhode Island first hit my radar as a spoken word scene in 2000, which is a testament to my ignorance at the time. The Providence Poetry Slam Team created a ruckus for its notability years prior – it was the1996 National Poetry Slam Champion and earned itself a feature spot in the 1998 documentary Slam Nation, which followed the Providence Slam Team as it battled its way to the final stage. In 2001, I found myself at a bar on Empire Street, chopping it up with the then legends, grabbing earfuls of folklore on how obscure cafés, summertime backyards, and crowded living rooms served as Providence’s first spoken word scene. The game has since changed. Since the advent of HBO’s Def Poetry – which featured then Providence resident Eamon Mahoney –  poetry open mics, slams, and award-winning poets are popping up like violets in summer all over the state.


So, welcome to the world of spoken word poetry. This is not your professor’s poetry. Poetry slam is where page meets stage, and spoken word itself is an oral kaleidoscope, a literary mosaic, a listeners’ cornucopia where if you are served properly, at the end of a performance you will have digested a wide range of emotion. I would like to be your host of sorts, serving the community by connecting artist to venue, enthusiast to stage, writer to workshop, and information to inquiring minds.



Rhode Island has a pretty solid scene, standing on the shoulders of the Providence Poetry Slam, Rhode Island’s longest-running spoken word poetry venue, and genre diverse newer spots like La Soul Renaissance. There are also local must-see poets like Franny Choi, who placed fifth in the 2012 Individual World Poetry Slam; Rudy Cabrera, amazing with born and bred Providence ambiance; and Brown University’s WORD!, a group of very talented young individuals who cultivate some of the best words to take to the air. Also, organizations like New Urban Arts, AS220 Youth, which just received recognition by a visit to the White House and a Michelle Obama tweet, and Providence’s youth slam team, which has a National Championship Title under its belt as well, are a wonderful testament to the young talent developing right under our noses.


The words, the writing, the performances, and the workshops happen with such frequency that it seems impossible for me to keep up at times despite my passion. This month, check out Got Poetry Live! every Tuesday at Blue State Coffee at 300 Thayer Street. Poetry starts at 7 pm and Chris Warner will be featured on January 22nd. At AS220, 115 Empire Street, Providence Poetry Slam will be gearing up for the next Women of the World Poetry Slam by hosting a competition to select Rhode Island’s representative January 17th. They will also hold a free-to-the-public youth performance January 31st. All shows start at 8 pm. Finally, also happening at AS220 on Tuesday, January 29th, is CousCous, a free event hosted by Mairead Byrne, with proven local hand-selected acts, as well as an open mic. The show starts at 9:30 pm. Hope to see you at a show!