I Think; Therefore, I Slam: An Evening with The Prosers

The Prosers Return to Towngate for National Poetry Month

by Laura Jackson Roberts

Poetry doesn’t make it easy. This ancient art form goes back a long way. It seems that as long as people have been talking to one another, they’ve also been writing and reciting poetry, and no matter how much you might have hated reading it aloud in high school, you should take another look at it as an adult, because our community features some incredible artists doing pretty amazing things with the spoken word.

Last November, I attended the Towngate Theater Slam Poetry event, “I Think, Therefore I Slam,” featuring The Prosers, a local poetry group that includes students from John Marshall High School, Lyceum Academy, and West Liberty University. Other featured guests included local singer/songwriter Shannon Canterbury, and artists Claudell Whetstone, Chermayne Davis, Jordan Peck, and Gabrielle Marshall.

And if you didn’t catch the November performance, you’ve got another chance. On April 9 at 8pm, The Prosers will take to the Towngate stage again to celebrate National Poetry Month.

group 3John Marshall teacher Sara Fincham leads The Prosers. “Slam poetry is a form of spoken word performance poetry that is often a commentary on current issues with social justice as the subject matter,” she explains. “It features a broad range of voices and styles, and can be performed solo or as a team.”

This was the first ever slam poetry show in the Ohio Valley, and Fincham writes about its importance, “In a place that is progressing, a city that is seeing a transformation, we heard the call, and are stepping onto the stage. A variety of voices have asked for other kinds of entertainment besides bars and restaurants, to have options, to drink in something exciting, to eat up something with a spark, and what better than art and amplifying our voices? Fostering artists for a long time, the city already has a scene—the Artists Market, Arts Fest, Artworks Around Town, all the madly talented musicians, and we are happy to have the help of Oglebay Institute to bring a brand new entertainment endeavor: slam poetry.”

I remember writing a lot of bad poetry in high school, so I groaned a little bit at this blog assignment. But it wasn’t a demure evening of Shakespearean sonnets. Nobody was plodding through iambic pentameter in loafers and a tweed jacket. These poets—several of them high schoolers—were no amateurs, and they blew me out of the water. Topics ranged from funny haikus to impassioned monologues about date rape and the death of a partner.

The “slam” part comes into play when the artist falls deep into her piece, and in the end the audience is left wondering where the poem ends and the improvisation begins; has the poet memorized this piece, or is she speaking from the heart, letting her words and feelings fly off of her tongue? I couldn’t tell, and I was stunned by the intensity of the performances.

Prosers_Nov_2015During the second half of the show, The Prosers moved aside to make room for anyone who wanted to step up to the open mic. Shannon Canterbury and Bob Gaudio played their guitars and sang. Local poets shared their pieces. The room felt very charged by The Prosers’ performance and the artists who took an opportunity to share were welcomed and applauded with gusto.

This open mic portion of the show is how Towngate Theater director Tim Thompson discovered The Prosers last year. He liked being able to hear people clearly and emotionally express themselves as they read their own work, and he knew he wanted to host a Towngate slam poetry event.

“What’s impressive about it is that you have these young poets who are sharing their thoughts on pretty difficult, conflicting times in their lives, and I think it’s neat that the audience can sit back and identify with [them]. Sara works with a lot of young people and it’s very therapeutic to share. It’s very courageous and powerful, although at times, difficult to listen to.”

He told me that he thinks it’s an exciting time to be an artist in Wheeling and that he hopes to hold seasonal poetry events at Towngate.

Oglebay Institute's Towngate Theatre in Wheeling's historic Centre Market District.
Oglebay Institute’s Towngate Theatre in Wheeling’s historic Centre Market District.

Though I’m a graduate student in a creative writing program, these artists humbled and thrilled me. Not only do I lack their poetry chops, I also lack the composure to do what they do with confidence. I was inspired by both The Prosers and the people who took advantage of the open mic, and I think there are many humble artists in our community who deserve their chance on stage. If you have something to say, the microphones and the ears are open at Towngate Theater. Maybe I’ll join you there.

Oglebay Institute’s Towngate Theater will present “An Evening of Poetry with the Prosers: I Think, Therefore I Slam” on Saturday, April 9 at 8pm. Tickets are $5, and are available at the door, at oionline.com, or by calling 304-242-7700.