The People's Poetry
Don't be afraid of the 'P' word: ChannelAustin celebrates Natl. Poetry Monthwith 24-hour EXSE marathon
Hopefully, you got your fill of SXSW last month. Now are you ready for EXSE?
Don't worry: EXSE is 24 hours instead of three weeks; and for this festival, you can stay in the comfort of your own home. In fact, you can watch the performances anywhere you darn well please.
That's because East by South East is a single day spoken word celebration broadcast on three local access channels through community television station, channelAustin. Aimed at providing community dialogue via the airwaves, channelAustin's Karla Saldaña organized EXSE six years ago in order to demarcate National Poetry Month and share the spoken word talent in our city.
EXSE originally came about following some concerns that SXSW might not be featuring the tremendous talent of artists here in Austin. With one of the longest-running, nationally-recognized slam poetry communities in the country and an open mic every night of the week, channelAustin's Karla Saldaña saw an obvious hole in the city's civic and artistic expression.
"In other countries, poets are seen as philosophers, leaders and teachers; there's a spiritual element to it. And we want to protect that aspect of the city, to make sure Austin's voice gets heard," explains Selah Vie, a poet and host for the past four seasons. "Karla saw the need and gave us the exposure we needed to start being heard."
Saldaña, the EXSE Spoken Word Lead Producer, brought the concept to channelAustin Executive Director Linda Litowsky, who had the idea to pair up the annual showcase with National Poetry Month and make it a 24-hour marathon running at the end of the month. (This year, it falls on Apr 27.) Last year, the marathon included over 70 poets from all over the city.
"People are afraid of the 'P' word, I think. They assume it's all flowers and rhyming. But this is real poetry with oomph. And it's getting exponentially better each year."
"We're proud to show a little bit of everything, from slam to spoken word to traditional poetry," says Saldaña. "There are no limits on the topics or the styles; we have jazz, folk, comedy, heavy, even some we have to put later at night when the kids have gone to bed. It really depends on what's going on in the lives of the poets that year."
Participating EXSE poet Jazz One, who is also a local DJ who played at this year's Fader Fort, agrees. A regular at the many poetry open mics around town, he was drawn to EXSE for the opportunity to share his words with a wider audience.
"People are afraid of the 'P' word, I think. They assume it's all flowers and rhyming. But this is real poetry with oomph. And it's getting exponentially better each year," he says. "You wouldn't believe how many strangers stop me and say, 'Hey, you're the poetry guy from TV!'"
"Watching past clips, you really are able to see the growth of each artist from year to year. We have the evidence captured on camera," adds Vie, who is also a minister and spiritualist. "So many of the poets are activists, and they bring their unique causes with them into the studio. It's a way to make something hard to swallow into something beautiful."
This year, EXSE has also collaborated with Ballet Austin's community engagement series Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project to create special spoken word pieces that commemorate Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. EXSE Spoken Word Humanity will first air live on Apr 19 at 8 p.m. and then again on Apr 27, and it features well-known Austin poets like Da'Shade Moonbeam, Ebony Stewart, Christopher Micheal, B Fran and Vie.
"I've also learned so much with this project over the years," Saldaña says with a smile. "We put in the best production possible so we have something tangible to be proud of, both for the station and for the poets. [EXSE] is just one day, but we show these clips all year round, and the feeling of community building lasts much longer. We've built a real family here."
EXSE is still looking for submissions to participate in this year's EXSE. All poets and styles of poetry considered. Fill out the submission form on their website or contact Saldaña directly through email.
EXSE Spoken Word is hosted by channelAustin on Cable Channel 10 on Apr 27 from 12:00 am to 11:59 pm.