Saturday, October 23, 2010
You can call Christian Collier a poet. You can call him a performer. Just don’t say he’s one or the other.
By day, Collier, 26, is a family service advocate at Head Start, but by night, he takes hold of a mike and infuses his poetry with a verve words alone can’t achieve.
Last year, Collier, a performance or “slam” poet, founded The Speakeasy, a weekly open mike hosted at The Office coffeehouse on Third Street. Every Wednesday, he breathes life into his work with enthusiastic, dynamic readings while encouraging others to do the same.
Q: What sets Speakeasy apart from other poetry open mikes?
A: Generally, you can go to any poetry open mike in the country and hear the same kind of poets. It doesn’t matter if you change their faces or not; they’re doing the same kind of poetry. I didn’t want that, because that bores me. I wanted to have a venue where we could have academic poets come out, where slam poets were welcome, where ... everyone was on the same page.
Q: What distinguishes academic poetry and slam poetry?
A: With academic poetry, the poem lives more on the page. The execution isn’t focused on bringing the poem to life in a live context.
Slam poetry, or performance poetry, is less about trying to dazzle you on the page and more so in the execution. You might hear a slam poem that does nothing for you on a lyrical level, but someone can knock it out of the park, performance-wise.
Hometown: Slidell, La.
Education: Graduated from Hixson High School, bachelor’s in English/writing from the University of Tampa.
Day job: Family service advocate with Head Start.
HIS PICK THREE
Bands: Miles Davis, Mos Def and Radiohead.
Movies: “Cidade de Deus,” “Bad Santa” and “Malcolm X.”
Books: “The Wild Iris” by Louise Glück, “The Learning Tree” by Gordon Parks and The Easy Rawlins mysteries by Walter Mosley.
Poets: Yusef Komunyakaa, Sharon Olds and Kenneth Rexroth.
Q: Which are you?
A: Depending on who you ask, I’m a slam poet, but I can also be an academic poet. I didn’t want to be a niche writer, because there’s so much to do, so much to communicate, and I wanted to do everything. Personally, I feel adept at both. I feel comfortable in both arenas.
Q: Does slam poetry open up the medium to more people?
A: I would say so. Since we started Speakeasy, I’ve seen some of our more performance-oriented poets go out to the Barnes & Noble open mike at the end of the month or New Voices at Pasha (Coffee and Tea). People are going to new places, and that’s exciting to me. We’re almost like a conduit.
Q: How do you avoid getting tongue-tied or lost in your delivery?
A: It’s the relationship you have with the piece, I think. I’ve been called a hip-hop poet or a slam poet, but I look at the way I put a lot of pieces together ... like jazz. I can follow the rhythm of the words and get immersed in what’s going on.
Q: Other than the words, how much of your delivery do you map out ahead of time?
A: I map it out very little. When it comes to a crowd, every crowd gives you something different. The strategy always changes, and the energy people bring to it is always different.
Q: What attracted you to slam poetry?
A: I started writing poetry in 1998. I was really big into hip-hops. Hip-hop publications at the time started publishing stuff by Saul Williams and muMs da Schemer and Urusla Rucker. I got familiar with people I later found out were staples of the slam poetry scene.
Q: Can any poem be performed slam style, or does a piece need to be written a certain way to work?
A: You probably could deliver any poem slam style, and it probably would be horrible. Every poem is going to be different; the tone of every poem will be different. You don’t have to scream every poem. You have to let these things breathe.
IF YOU GO
The Speak-easy, a free, weekly poetry open mike, takes place 8-11 p.m. Wednesdays at The Office, 1401 E. Third St. Call 698-4441 for more information.
Christian Collier also is organizing a monthly arts showcase/charity fund-raiser called Manifest. The first event will be Nov. 17 at The Camphouse, 1427 Williams St., and will feature performances by local artists. Admission will be $10, and proceeds will benefit the Chattanooga Homeless Coalition.