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We Were Kings Poetry Slam, Celebrating a Place for Open Expression

By Bree Stallings

February 27, 2014

Walking briskly past the intersection of Camden Road and South Tryon, one wouldn’t know anything about Charlotte on a Tuesday night other than that the city was uncharacteristically preparing for a snow storm. Stores like Blush Boutique, Black Sheep and Brief & Shu, all unique daytime treasures, had long closed up for the night, and the only sound for miles is a slow slag truck, preemptively salting the cold, dry roads.

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Photo by Almond Leaf Studios

The energy quickly changes, though, as one finds the etched glass doors of Apostrophe Lounge open to the sweet, smooth sounds of Spartanburg, SC native JJ Dae swooning the crowd on his acoustic guitar. The crowd fills in quickly, a mix of young and old, and with a trained eye, one can see it is brimming with well-known poets and spoken word artists.

The first ever We Were Kings poetry slam is a collaborative event between the reputable poets JstJah (“just-jah”) SayWord of Charlotte and Bugsy Calhoun of Columbia, SC. Calhoun put together the exciting Soul Sista Slam, making this event part two of a series leading up to the highly-anticipated He Vs. She Slam on March 29 at Ultra Lounge.

The lineup was broad and impressive, bringing together new and established poets, including a few renowned IWPS (Individual World Poetry Slam) qualifiers and winners.  Hosted by the acclaimed poet Tavis P. Brunson, the event was guaranteed to be entertaining. As with every poetry slam, “blood must be spilled,” and a sacrificial poet performs first to be a basis of point allotment but does not actually compete. “Wey Da Theta” brought high energy with a post-Valentine’s anti-love poem about getting over an ex, raking in an excellent score and setting the bar high for the competing poets.

Ed Mabrey, “Sidekick,” Roscoe Burnems, Jay Ward, Prince Poetry, “Krosswordz,” “Milk” Jacobs, Johnny C. Weaver, Mr. Witz, Idle Wild and Ray Manley put up a tough first round, all scoring highly. Remarkably, two poems, Jay Ward’s When Buying a Dog extended racial metaphor and astute remarks on the recent events in Ferguson, MO, and Johnny C. Weaver’s Random Conversations, powerful envisioned questions for God about the tragedy of living, both racked up an unheard-of perfect 30 points.

The second round wasn’t short of amazement either, each poet bringing out their best to vie for those coveted top three spots. The power of love, the conundrum of lust, the misfortune of death and the resilience of hope were subjects all gracefully touched by the poets. Fierce competition gave the room a tense and excited energy as everyone awaited the announcement of the final round’s three contenders.

Jay Ward, Prince Poetry, and Johnny C. Weaver went on to go full-throttle, each poem emotional and beautiful, pulling in near-perfect scores. Though it was Johnny C. Weaver’s wild crowd engagement and militant, lyrical chanting that moved the judges to give him the top honors, King of the Slam, and $300 cash.

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(Antonio “Johnny C. Weaver” Mack), winner of the We Were Kings 2015 Poetry Slam. Photo by Spoken Word Spartanburg

After the event, I caught up with the co-event planner, JstJah SayWord, to ask why he puts on these events and his purpose through poetry.

CLTure: Jah, can you tell me a little bit about your events at Apostrophe?
JstJah SayWord: We host a weekly open mic called Say Word Tuesdays. Doors are at 10 p.m., show is at 11, admission is free before 11 and $5 afterwards. Sometimes we bring in a local, regional or national featured poet and always there’s DJ Phassad on the 1s and 2s. If you want a chance at the mic, you have to sign up early as the list quickly fills. On occasion, we will bring out the big guns and pair up with other poetry promoters like Bugsy Calhoun to present events such as the We Were Kings slam to show off the best and brightest.

CLTure: Why do you think Charlotte needs an event like this?

JJSW: It actually goes a bit deeper than that. I want to provide Charlotte with a place for free expression, an avenue to celebrate the spoken word. It’s something I personally know to be very effective and healing.

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(JstJah SayWord and Mr. Witz.  Photo by Grannae’s Boyz, Inc.

CLTure: Do you have a back story as to why you became a poet?

JJSW: The background ties in directly to my purpose and my events. I am a Brooklyn native, from a family of six sons, all MCs and spoken word artists. I was always around creativity, but didn’t know how much I needed it until personal tragedy happened. When I was 19, a young and successful DJ, some people I knew tried to steal my DJ equipment, shot me up and left me for dead. I wasn’t supposed to live to see the next day. Though I did survive, healing took time. I lost all trust and faith in humanity. Writing became my way to express my hurt in a healthy way. Eventually, my brother and Grannae’s Boyz co-founder Mr. Witz and I moved to Charlotte and became heavily involved in the poetry scene. From that, Say Word Tuesdays was born. We are almost two years old now.

CLTure: Wow, that’s an amazing story of triumph. How else are you involved in the community?

JJSW: We do a wide array of community service poetry workshops, working with the elderly in nursing homes, the men’s shelter and middle school and high school aged students to teach them the power of words.

CLTure: Beautiful in every way. Thank you for all you do. Do you have any other events coming up?

JJSW: We actually are gearing up for our next event, this Sunday, March 1 at 301 E. 9th Street. “Poetic Stimulation” will feature two poets, Dasan Ahanu and Obbie West, who have appeared on the TV show “Verses and Flow” with some local opening acts, like Jay Ward and our very own Mr. Witz from tonight.

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