The first night of Renaissance Theaterworks’ word play series was Friday Nov. 1 when four poets took to the stage for an evening of spoken poetry. The poets were all Milwaukee based artists who work through Pyramid Rising Enterprises. One of the poets, De’Shawn L. Ewing, founded the organization in 2003. Other poets include Spitfire Shine, Lotus Divine, and Darlin Nikki Janzen.
The idea behind spoken word performances (sometimes called slam poetry) is to combine poetry and performance. In this setting poetry that might sometimes be hard to enter or to understand the power behind is brought to life by its author in front of our eyes. Here the words are given power and understanding, life and more character than might be found on a sheet of paper. Pauses and emphasis, sounds and reactions can all be seen and understood. The words and concepts are also connected to an individual we see, no longer merely a name on paper.
Each poet performed three pieces throughout the night, taking the audience on a trip filled with ups and downs. Reciting pieces that were funny but followed by heavier works or pieces that included many aspects all at once, the audience never knew where the night would take them.
The night opened up with two works by Lotus. She talked about the need for writing, the paper enticing her with words yet to be written and how they would define that paper’s purpose for “entirety,” as she put it. From there she moved onto a much heavier topic of her experience with an abortion and a conversation with the life that was never had.
When it was Nikki’s turn, she discussed the idea of a soul, where it comes from, and whether it is defined by color or environment or events. She also spoke about her own experience with the loss of her baby and finding love in another, her dog. Starting with a humorous idea of her dog being her child, she allowed the audience to understand her pain, but also how she was able to deal with it.
Next up was Spitfire Shine, who did a twist on a simple child’s rhyme. She said, “Sticks and stones can break bones but words can kill.” She talked about her troubles growing up and living day to day with the knowledge of gossip and how people judge each other but then finding her confidence to move past it all. To lighten up the night she then talked about the idea of respecting the mic and listed all the things she wished she would say when people talk throughout performances.
Lastly listeners were introduced to De’Shawn who started with a piece about finding his voice, or rather the meaning behind words rather than just spitting out things that not even he could understand. From there he moved to a more somber piece (with the help of Lotus, who performed sign language for his words) about the loss of a life. He created a tragically beautiful scene in everyone’s mind about a woman who, as a distraction from her pain, became so fascinated with how a bird flies that one day she joined them, falling from a 15 floor building.
After this each poet took to the mic one more time to finish the night. The audience laughed and cried, cheered and shouted: both words of affirmation and of praise. Each of the poets was open to talking with everyone at the end and available to discuss on a deeper level the events of the night.
The next and last performance of this series will take place on Friday Nov. 8 at 10 p.m. again at the Skylight Bar and Bistro on the second floor of the Renaissance Theaterworks’ building, 158 N. Broadway in the Thirdward. Poets from the night will be from another local collective.