One of Kansas City’s premier and locally owned bookstores recently held a poetry event which featured a national tour and local favorites. No DJs or music, just literary devices from some amazing artists surrounded by books and a small bar.
The event was hosted by Keith Bohannon, a local favorite in the hip-hop and poetry scene. Keith has been performing for ten years and has been organizing, hosting and promoting events for three. Alongside working with the Uptown Arts Bar, Prospero’s and the Tank Room, Bohannon just won 2nd place in the Pitch newspaper for the 2015 Best Poet/Spoken Word Artist. He was also on the 2014 national team of Kansas City’s premier, and now nationally-accredited poetry slam, Pound Slam.
Kansas City has been building a quality national poetry scene for years now. While showcasing spoken word greats and published poets like Glenn North, it has always made room for touring poets. The featured artists for this event were Freeman Word and Salena Burch – two St. Louis poets who maintain a balance of the “heartfelt and intimate,” said Freeman, describing Burch, and “universal, big picture,” describing himself.
On the inspiration behind his art Freeman said “I think the worst events in history produce the best art,” and then continued to explain how Mike Brown and Ferguson inspired him. He has been doing poetry since 2011 and was a rapper before that. He’s been a featured speaker on TED Talks and is a teaching artist at places like juvenile detention centers. In 2014 he was on the St. Louis UrbSLAM team, along with Burch, placing 6th in the nation at the National Poetry Slam.
Their set featured them going back and forth, complimenting each other as they went. Both were electric and Freeman was explosive with phrases that required peeling layers of literary technique just to understand. There was something very tangible about Burch’s style – it was emotional and real. The words weren’t just creative, you could feel them. She performed a piece about loving herself as a woman, without validation or orders from a man: “The word equality always means that someone has to lose power, and this time it won’t be me.”
Burch also did a piece about a friend who committed suicide and the crowd was in awe. Her skill transcended her three years of experience as a poet. Outside of high scores and her top ten performance at the 2014 National Poetry Slam, she placed 26th—out of 72—in the 2015 World of Women national poetry slam. She described her style as “honest,” and with influences like the legendary poet Sonia Sanchez, she is destined for greatness.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Freeman and Burch is the community work they do back home in St. Louis. They work with a non-profit called 28 to Life which focuses on community and police relations, youth empowerment and economic growth. Freeman talked about a gun buy-back, working with teens and ex-convicts, a resource fair for jobs and the positive impact that the organization is having in St. Louis.
Bohannon also featured a couple other poets that night: Roni Marsalis, a rapper and poet from Kansas City who was just featured on a documentary on BET honoring Muhammad Ali’s legacy, and Bee Wize, a poet of two years and also a rapper, who did an amazing piece about Black history. Kansas City’s Pound Slam champion for October, Frederic Sims, did a piece called “Profile Pic Girl” about people finding their identities on social media. Lastly, Jen Harris, the host of “Pound Slam” and 3rd in the Pitch for Best Poet/Spoken Word Artist, did a piece on inequality.
Bran Seepersad, a local singer/songwriter was also in attendance and thought the event was “fantastic.”
There isn’t a reoccurring poetry night at Prospero’s—yet—but you can catch Bohannon hosting open-mics at the Uptown Arts Bar every Tuesday night and the last Saturday of each month.