If you assume that poetry readings are all soft-spoken, genteel events, be prepared to be slammed with something louder at the fourth annual Blackbird Poetry Festival on Thursday, April 26, at Howard Community College.
Student-oriented activities including workshops are scheduled during the day, and there is a 7:30 p.m. reading open to the public that features poets Kim Addonizio and Michael Cirelli, as well as a poetry-and-song-performing duo known as Mother Ruckus.
The festival is sponsored by the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo), Howard Community College and the fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha.
HoCoPoLitSo executive director Carla Du Pree says her group "promises a night of poetry, slam and song from contemporary poets who aren't afraid to push the boundaries of our comfort zones. Addonizio's red dress poem, 'What Women Want,' has people writing about what they want in that same saucy manner of hers. Cirelli directs one of the leading youth literary organizations in the country, and Mother Ruckus ... sings for women and the men who can handle them.'"
This is an especially timely festival, because April is National Poetry Month. Its local application will even include a National Poem in Your Pocket Day activity in which so-called Poetry Police roam the campus citing students caught without poetry on hand.
The evening reading offers a lively evocation of a coffeehouse setting. The poets are performers who aren't shy about speaking up and speaking out. Expect a hip-hop vibe, and some songs, too.
Addonizio is a poet, novelist and essayist. Her book "Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within," which contains writing exercises for novice poets, gives a vibrant sense of the spirit she brings to the workshops she leads in Oakland, Calif., and elsewhere.
Addonizio once described her own writing process in an interview she did for the publication "Poetry Daily." She observed that "I follow the language to see where it takes me ... I'll have a bunch of fragments, like sketches, and then some of those pieces will start to cohere around an idea."
Her writing has earned recognition, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, and Pushcart Prizes for both poetry and essays.
Michael Cirelli is of Italian heritage and grew up in Rhode Island. He jokes in his poem "I Am Hip Hop" that he looks "all Nascar," but he has a hip-hop personality. He was a National Poetry Slam finalist; appeared on HBO's Def Poetry Jam; was praised in a book jacket blurb by rapper Kanye West; and has a new book of poetry, "Vacations on the Black Star Line," which is based on an album by Mos Def and Talib Kweli.
The connection between poetry and hip-hop music is a natural one for him.
"Writing based on music has almost become a compulsion of mine," Cirilli once said in an interview in Poets and Writers magazine. "I could take a song ... and spend hours trying to dissect each line, each metaphor, each double and triple entendre. The stuff of good hip-hop puts language in a rocket ship!"
Cirilli's actions speak as assertively as his words. He is director of Urban Word NYC, a non-profit organization encouraging young people to express themselves; and he's also director of the annual Spoken Word and Hip-Hop Teacher and Community Leader Training Institute at the University of Wisconsin.
The Baltimore-based Mother Ruckus consists of poet Gayle Danley and singer Sahffi. Poetic language possesses a musical quality, so it makes sense to go the next step and actually sing.
Blackbird Poetry Festival occurs at Howard Community College on Thursday, April 26. Free daytime events mostly are intended for students, but there are readings and performances open to the public at 7:30 p.m. in Duncan Hall's Kittleman Room. Howard Community College is at 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Tickets are $15, $10 for students and seniors. Go to www.hocopolitso.org.