Poetry Awards suggest an art form that's alive and well

Last year's initial event was met with enthusiasm

Scene: Clubs/Bars/Nightlife

December 16, 2004|By Donna M. Owens | Donna M. Owens,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's an award ceremony that's being dubbed "the year in your ear," to honor Baltimore poets.

And while not every scribe will leave the People's Poetry Awards 2004 with a statue or bragging rights, organizers hope Saturday's event at the Cork Gallery on Guilford Avenue will foster greater unity and purpose among the diverse wordsmiths who make up this city's vibrant poetry scene.

We chatted recently with 27-year-old engineer, teacher and poet Olu Butterfly Woods, who heads Poetry for the People Baltimore (P4PB), to discuss the annual awards ceremony dedicated to those who love words.

When did the awards start, and why?

The awards began in 2003. The mission of Poetry for the People Baltimore is to use poetry to heal, develop and celebrate the greater Baltimore and beyond. To be in P4PB means you love art and you love people. The award ceremony fits many of our objectives because it honors quality in artists and gets people involved in the process.

[The event] is a great time, and it's very inspiring to artists to know that what they have been doing most of their lives is being recognized by the community. The fact that a ceremony like this can be pulled off -- that there is such a diverse group of poets to nominate and that there is an informed audience that can make the choices -- is a result of Baltimore's growth as a scene.

How did you come up with the initial idea? What did you hope to achieve?

A representative group from Poetry for the People Baltimore went to a conference on the future of poetry as an industry. One of the main themes was that in order for artists to maintain the direction of the art form, they would need to come together. This means reaching out to people who may not be like us and putting aside petty differences that can be very unattractive to potential patrons. It is like cereal companies fighting over customers, so everybody just decides to eat bagels instead. We would all lose. The People's Poetry Awards is a good-natured attempt at community-building.

We were very nervous about how the concept would be received. Poetry for the People Baltimore is into doing cutting-edge activities, experimenting, going out on a limb occasionally, but we did not know if people would participate, if artists would take it seriously, or worse, take it so seriously they get upset about their personal standing instead of seeing the greater vision. We wanted to involve people, but we did not want the concept to get lost and just become a basic popularity contest.

From the jump, however, the concept of the event was met with enthusiasm: Organizers asked how they could get involved, and many poets said, "Thank you for doing this."

How do you select the nominees? How many categories are there, and how many people are nominated?

It is primarily a write-in ballot. We do attach a list of representative artists from different scenes as collected by various organizers, but voters do not have to choose from it.

The categories will vary from year to year to recognize different aspects. Some of the categories honor virtues; others are just fun. The ballot process is very involved. Besides e-mailing it out through various lists, we take the ballot box "on tour" to as many poetry events within a month as we physically can.

In addition to the categories on the ballot, there are three categories where the winner is chosen by a smaller group of people who are more intimate with the behind-the-scenes area of poetry: Legacy Award, Person Who Has Done the Most to Advance Poetry in Baltimore in 2004 [and the] "Walk It Talk It" Integrity Award. We recognize that there are many people who may not be on stage, or on the front page all the time, but they help make Baltimore go round.

Last year, there was a feeling that the awards went to very appropriate recipients. People got it. The poets highly appreciated their awards and kept it in perspective. Poets got it.

The People's Poetry Awards 2004 will be held Saturday at the Cork Gallery loft at 1601 Guilford Ave. in Station North Arts District (corner of Federal Avenue, below North Avenue). The event begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 and are available at the door. For more details, call 410-236-3775.

For more club events, see Page 30.

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