MTV gives voice to verse with 'Fightin Wordz'

April 09, 1993|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,Staff Writer

Heard much poetry on TV lately? Maybe you haven't tuned into the right channel.

MTV is currently airing 30-second public service announcements with a sampling of New York's hip young poets performing video interpretations of their poems.

As part of the network's commitment to video literature, the "Fightin' Wordz" poetry campaign presents seven writers who work the Manhattan poetry performance scene known as the Spoken Word.

"We wanted to show that poetry could be exciting," says Nigel Cox-Hagan, who directed and co-produced "Fightin' Wordz" with Tracy Grandstaff. "Poetry doesn't have to be something on a page or something that happened 200 years ago. The point is, anyone can do it if they have something to say."

Poet Maggie Estep, a luminary in the Spoken Word scene, gave the producers a choice of three 30-second poems she created for her spot. Everyone liked "I Don't Want Anymore," a form of poetry she refers to as "a rant."

"It's a very condensed version of what I usually do," she says. "It goes like this:

"I don't want any more gun happy government officials. I don't want the TV drilling holes in my head, pouring in deodorant, a couple of game show hosts and the bust of Jim Morrison that someone ripped off from his grave in Paris. I'm sick of that. Instead, I want a thousand radiant grandmas in paratrooper gear leaping out of planes, proclaiming themselves Queen of the Wild Frontier. I wanna meet the brink of destruction, shake its hand, command it to go sit down somewhere and be quiet. I want a riot of joy, a bucket of love and a huge vegetable omelet, OK?"

Ms. Estep, who recently turned 30, figures she was discovered by the MTV poetry scouts at Nuyorican Poet's Cafe, a prime Spoken Word hangout on East Third Street in Manhattan. She performs poetry on the club circuit about once a week, sings with a rock band called I Love Everybody and has a part-time day job with the National Writers Union. "Anything that expands the audience base for poetry is OK with me," says Todd Colby, who performs his poem "Sad" as part of the series. Originally a minute and a half, "Sad" was trimmed by two-thirds for this project -- which was also OK with Mr. Colby.

"It seems like so much poetry used to be just for other poets,

and now it's taken as a viable form of expression. It used to be a very square thing, and now there's a hipness to it. It's nice there are outlets other than smoky little clubs," he says.

The poems, which begin with the title graphic "Plug Into This," consider such themes as racial conflict and safe sex. The other participating poets are Paul Beatty, Matthew Courtney, Reggie Gaines, Dana Bryant and a rap poet named 99.

The campaign continues the tradition of "Read: Feed Your Head," the 1991 series of 60-second announcements that urged young people to read.

"Fightin' Wordz" will continue airing through the first week of May.

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