Thursday night, The Belmont will be transformed into a showcase for living, breathing art.
RAW:natural born artists, an independent arts organization whose sole mission is to pack as much excitement into one unique evening of creativity, invades the cool downtown space for a multi-genre art show that features fashion, music, photography, hair and makeup, painting and live performance. The goal is to encourage emerging artists to cross-pollinate their creativity and to raise awareness, dialogue and exposure.
A highlight of Thursday night's JUNCTION event lineup is a set by local slam poet Lacey Roop, a rising superstar in the national slam poetry scene. As a two-time member of the renowned Austin Poetry Slam (APS) team and Austin's representative to the Individual World Poetry Slam, the 24 year-old Roop has already appeared on some prolific stages across the country in her three short years of performing.
The dynamic, dreadlocked Roop is performing a longer, more intimate set at the Belmont, free from the time limits and judging criteria of the slam world. Free from those constraints, her gravel-and-honey voice transforms her written words into kinetically charged shrapnel that will get lodged in your brain. It sounds extreme, but you honestly can't help but react viscerally to the combined effect of her words and their controlled performance.
Roop was willing to share some of her story with us to provide some background to her writing, her influences and her relationship wtih poetry itself.
When did you fall in love with poetry?
I was blindsided by poetry. I didn't really know this thing called poetry existed until I was damn near 21 years old. I was a stereotypical jock through high school. I ate steak and protein shakes, spent weekdays at practices, and weekends were game days. Books were things other people read, and the idea of me ever reading poetry—much less writing it—seemed about as probable as me learning Yiddish. It wasn't until I found myself hunched over in a corner at The Hideout here in Austin that I recall hearing my first poem. It was a standard open mic where a random mix of folks get up and share whatever it is that they've written in their journals. I thought, "Hmm, maybe I'll do this one day. Maybe I'll write a poem." Since then, I've written a few...
You grew up in small-town Mississippi. What made Austin your destination city?
Austin wasn't even a city on my radar before I got here. All I knew was that I had to get out of Mississippi, it was an issue of survival. I know that sounds dramatic, but imagine a life where everyday you are reminded of just how peculiar you are, where being unique is a bad thing. I decided that Seattle was where I wanted to go because it was the farthest place from Mississippi by car. I loaded up my massive SUV (that was my car at the time!) and I began driving. I stopped for gas, a pee break and a little nap in Austin 'effin Texas. And what do you know? It's been one helluva of pit-stop!
Explain what it was like performing your poetry for the first time.
The first official time I read was at the open mic at the Hideout. I brought my little poem and read it with shaking, sweaty palms to about 10 people. Afterwards, someone came up to me and asked me if I slammed. I had no idea what that meant—I thought they were offering me hallucinogenics! The first time I read at a poetry slam, it was at The Scoot Inn, and I brought the only three poems I had. My first reading at the slam, I won, and I thought 'What the fuck just happened?!' Tony Jackson (a former member of the APS Nationals team) asked me what teams I'd been on and where I was from. So I said, "I'm from Mississippi and these are the only poems I have." He bought me a Crown and Coke and we became friends after that.
What has been your favorite performance experience so far?
Making it to finals stage at the Women of the World Poetry Slam in 2011 and placing sixth did make me feel like I was doing something right. It was the most incredible, rewarding, horrendously nerve-wrecking moment in my poetry career. I was determined to make it to finals stage, though. Absolutely determined. And it was because of this poem I wrote called "American Doll" about Marilyn Monroe. I had this genuine sensation that this poem has to be heard, and it has to heard in front of an enormous crowd. My desire to be on the finals stage had nothing to do with me wanting to be seen as much as it was about this poem being heard. I have never felt so certain about a poem before in my life.
Who are some of your major writing influences and poetry idols?
I always say that Toni Morrison is my favorite poet, though she has never written a book of poetry. Her novels are epic poems to me because every single word counts, all of them. It's impressive. I think the definition of poetry is a lot broader than what most think. I also have an enormous crush on Virginia Woolf for similar reasons. As for more traditional poets, I admire Andrea Gibson, Frederico Garcia Lorca, Cristin O' Keefe Apowitz, Kahlil Gibran, Good Ghost Bill and Anis Mojgani. They're just a few of the writers I respect and learn from that I can think of off the top of my head.
What's up next in the performance future of Lacey Roop?
I'm working on my fourth book of poems called And Then Came the Flood.
I've also been working on a conceptional piece for about a year that entails a girl who lives in a world made out of "pianobones." It's essentially a fairytale geared towards adults. And I do believe poetry can be a full time thing, but you have to really hustle and market yourself. You've got to really get all Madonna/Andy Warhol about it, which I'm not the best at. I'd really like to start booking more gigs at universities and internationally. I just have to get my hustle on.
Before any of that, you can check out Roop's set and all the great art at the RAW: Austin JUNCTION event this Thursday night at the Belmont. Tickets are $10 presale online or $15 at the door. Otherwise, you can always catch Roop on stage most Wednesday nights at the Austin Poetry Slam, held at The 29th Street Ballroom at The Spider House.