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Spoken word’s best featured in ‘Passing the Mic’

October 8, 2008 By Gwen Evans

The Passing the Mic Series has become a signature event of the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives (OMAI) and is an important component of the annual Wisconsin Book Festival. Now in its fourth year, the event showcases spoken-word poet-performers from UW–Madison, teams of teen poets from around the country, and nationally known leaders and hip-hop performers. Passing the Mic events are scheduled for Oct. 16–18 in venues on campus and in Madison.

If you’ve never attended a spoken-word event, now’s the time to get plugged in and discover why hundreds of students show up each month to perform and listen at open mic events hosted by OMAI. For some of the poets, writing gives them an opportunity for uncensored, creative self-expression and exploration. All are perfecting their writing and performance skills.

Those who come to listen at one of the scheduled Passing the Mic events will find youthful energy in abundance; skilled, perceptive and well-executed poetry; passionate performances; and an environment that is noncompetitive but challenges performers to be their best.

In addition to spoken word, two books of printed poetry will receive their debuts during the weekend. The first-ever anthology of Wisconsin youth poetry, “Someone Might Hear You,” includes selections from First Wave writers as well as poets from the state. Josh Healy, former OMAI program director, will present a collection of his poetry, “Hammertime.”

In addition to performances from UW–Madison’s First Wave students, teens, primarily high school juniors and seniors from Austin, Milwaukee, Detroit, Indianapolis, Chicago and the Twin Cities, will take the mic. These teens have been selected to participate in Passing the Mic based on their leadership abilities, artistic talent and academic achievement. They represent a variety of community organizations including the Young Chicago Authors, Milwaukee’s Stillwaters Collective and Detroit’s Literary Arts Project. While here, they’ll also take a look at the Madison campus to decide if UW–Madison makes their list for college applications.

Youthful enthusiasm and passion may be charming, but Passing the Mic organizers know that this young generation of poets can benefit from an understanding of their past. This is accomplished each year in Passing the Mic by inviting two or three “adult” artists to perform with them and to present workshops for them. And because of the reputation of the First Wave program, OMAI is able to bring internationally known poet performers to Madison.

Last year, Roger Bonair-Agard, Willie Perdomo and Gambian Griot Alhaji Papa Susso visited. The year before, Linton Kwase Johnson, Kevin Coval, Mayda del Valle and Dasha Kelly came to Madison. In 2005, Jessica Care-Moore, Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Kalamu ya Salaam participated in Passing the Mic.

OMAI is keeping the tradition going this year. Internationally renowned spoken word artist and award-winning poet Patricia Smith; lyricist and hip-hop artist Dennis Kim (aka Denizen Kane); and Kevin Coval will be teaching and performing.

Schedule of events

Thursday, Oct. 16, 7 p.m.

Wisconsin Historical Society Theater

Book release celebration: “First Wave Anthology” and Josh Healey’s “Hammertime.” Welcome by Patricia Smith and Kevin Coval, hosted by Eric Mata and Josh Healey.

Friday, Oct. 17, 9:30 p.m.

Chazen Museum of Art

Spoken Word and Hip Hop Open Mic. Hosted by First Wave, featuring the Midwest Youth Slam All-Stars. The open mic follows “A Carnival of Water Creatures,” a costume reception for the opening of “Mami Wata, Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and Its Diasporas,” from 7–9 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 18

Capitol Theater, Overture Center for the Arts, 201 State St.

“OMAI Performance Showcase” Featuring four-time national slam champion Patricia Smith, Midwest Youth All-Stars, First Wave mini-performance, Kevin Coval reading, Dennis Kim performance, and poetry by Josh Healey.