So begins Poetry in Motion, the Capital Region’s best spoken word show and premiere African American cultural event, now in it’s fifth year. Poetry in Motion continues to offer a chance to see stellar poetry and spoken word at Proctors.
This year’s show was less straightforward than previous shows — mixed in with the poetry were a few award ceremonies, plugs for various community organizations and upcoming events, and memorably, one marriage proposal. Surprisingly, the varied nature of the show didn’t take away from the coherence of the event.
You’re not at Poetry in Motion if you’re not here for community, in the end. Because this show isn’t just an artistic event — it is a celebration of community, of culture, of what makes Schenectady tick. Projected on the screen behind the performers are pictures of Schenectady residents, most of whom are in the audience, culled from Facebook. It’s clear that the real stars of this show are us.
The theme of the show, this year, was dual: the somewhat incongruous melding of Black History Month and Mars vs. Venus — the endless battle between the sexes. The first part of the show, the part that focused on Black History, was more sober, more pointed than the second, more romantic portion, which can only be described as giddy. The audience, while attentive and very responsive for the first part, was ecstatic in the second — understandable, since nothing brings out more opinions and laughter and anger, even, than a discussion of what makes men and women different.
The community empowerment portion of the show featured strong performers — however, the exemplary Rae Frasier, a Poetry in Motion veteran, shone the brightest. She performed “Contemporary Servitude,” a striking denunciation of the system of second-class citizenship that is American racism. She imparts “knowledge like a cold, no one wants to get it,” with invective that is stunning in its precision, graceful in its cold elegance. If life as a black person in America is a present, “someone find a gift receipt,” she spits.
Frasier’s was far from the only memorable performance. Bless Wise Words, also known as D’Andre Dion Burnett, (who was also Damonni Farley’s fellow emcee), delivered a striking homage to the hood, delivering his words with a halted elegance that reminded me of the rapper Common. Words plays his audience like an old-school Baptist preacher, confident in his delivery, knowing exactly when and where to drop his jokes to maximum effect.
Other Poetry in Motion regulars performed admirably. Poetic Visionz (Darian Gooden) gifted the audience with a new one — a funny, warm, clever homage to black celebrity, and Randee Renzi let us in on her ever-evolving process, with a piece that was less accessible than her previous work, but still delicate and intricate.
Poetry in Motion — the romance edition — was less brilliant, but still enjoyable. Mars Vs. Venus featured three sets of competing man/woman teams, spitting stereotypes and tired tropes at each other, in an attempt to out-caricaturize the other team. Though the male poets generally outclassed the female poets in dexterity and delivery (ladies, step ya game up next year!) Poetress delivered what might be my favorite line ever said out loud in a spoken word show: “I bathe in your snores.” (The dig elicited an absolutely raucous reaction in the female faction of the audience, by far the funniest moment of the entire event.)
If there is a criticism of the show to be made, it lies with the “violin dude,” Rhett Price, who closed out the show with a well-received but ultimately uninteresting performance of hip-hop violin. Price, a YouTube star who also performed at last year’s Poetry in Motion, is a Boston native, who specializes in cranking out covers of The Weeknd and Justin Bieber. Price, who was given the honor of performing last, shouldn’t have been. Not only did making that space for him squeeze out other, more local performers, he just wasn’t that good.
The absolute best part of this part of the show — during either half — was Miss Lidell’s declaration of love to her partner, who later came up and proposed to her, bringing everyone in the audience to tears. Miss Lidell’s performance was strikingly emotional, her passion for the love of her life evident in every quivering line she gave. Miss Lidell’s paean to the love of her life reminded us what’s really important in life, and in Poetry in Motion — that which brings us together, not which separates us. Community, togetherness, love — Poetry in Motion is strongest when it is celebrating these themes.
Poetry in Motion, Proctors, Feb. 25
Photo by Jaya Sunderesh