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The Backroom Words

This past July marked my fourth year as host of The Backroom Words, an open-mic poetry/spoken word forum in downtown Orlando.

The Backroom Words is Central Florida's only weekly happening that caters exclusively to poetry. Other open-mic forums cater to artists like musicians, but not us; we're exclusively for the poets.

The reason we're a "poets-only" forum comes from The Backroom Words' origins.

It used to be in Yab Yum, a downtown coffeehouse now called Harold and Maude's.

Back then, Yab Yum had separate open mics for both spoken word and music. Spoken word was on Tuesday nights and music was on Wednesdays.

After three weeks of sub-hosting for a host who never showed up, I became the spoken word host the first week of July 1995. Actually, my first official night was July 4.

The readings weren't called The Backroom Words, then. It was just called The Spoken Word.

The name change came when both nights were moved to Yab Yum's next-door sister operation, the Go Lounge.

Since, a patron had to go to Go Lounge's back room to see entertainment, that's how three friends and I came up with the name.

Over my years as host, I've been called egotistical, racist, sexist, hostile and downright disrespectful towards poets.

Funny thing about all this is that I've seen white hosts of other open mics who have been worse. No one complained about them. A person didn't hear a whisper of criticism. But when the African-American screws up ... can't have that.

Why are there always double standards for minorities? White males can get away with a dump truck load of mean-spiritedness but minorities can't.

Despite all the accusations, poets kept coming back.

One begins to wonder why is this so.

If I was such an evil person, why did the poets keep coming back?

I have made my screw-ups. Every host does. It's all a part of being human.

Still, the poets kept coming back.

Now, why is that?

The reason: The Backroom Words is Central Florida's only poetry forum where a person can say what they want to say without being harassed about it. That's the attraction, an uncensored forum.

I have always felt that this is how poetry readings should be done. To have a healthy forum, a host must welcome all walks of life and all forms of poetry, even the kinds that suck.

I also feel that there is a socio-political necessity for uncensored readings.

Uncensored readings and other uncensored open mic venues are one of the few entertainment venues that involves everyone. At venues such as these, a person has the option to either participate in the forum or be a spectator. If they choose to participate, they can do this without censoring themselves.

Seeing how Corporate America has almost absolute control over how we receive information, the attraction to an uncensored open mic forum is understandable.

A joke among my friend Richard Miller and I is, Who's Orlando's "most banned poet"? I'm the Number One poet and Richard is the second.

A year does not go by without us getting in trouble about our poetry.

Besides being kicked out of bookstores, we've even had someone call the police on us. Along with other spoken word artists and musicians, we were reading our poetry outside a Barnies' coffeehouse and someone in a neighboring business called the police.

My latest claim to fame, the one that puts me on top of the list, is having the mic turned off on me at Universal Studio's City Jazz.

The band, Umoja, invited me to read my poem, "Hate Fire." This is a semi-autobiographical work dealing with racism.

I reworded the poem. I took out all the profanity (this is tourist town) but I left in the words "cracker" and "nigger." I felt they were necessary.

I read it during Umoja's final performance. Three-fourths of the way through the poem, the powers that be turned off the mic and turned on the house lights.

This is why I am so glad The Backroom Words still exists, because shit like that wouldn't happen there.

After a year and a half of disrespect and then finally, being rudely kicked out of Go Lounge (we ain't forgot, mutherfuckers!), The Backroom Words now exists at a downtown bar called Walk The Dog. [The Backroom Words has moved again; it is now at Nicole St. Pierre in Maitland on Thursdays at 9 p.m.; vist the Backroom Words website for more details.]

It's still on Tuesday nights (9:30 p.m.) and still welcomes all walks of life and all forms of poetry, even the kinds that suck.

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