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Speaking the page

BY ERIC SUNDERMANN | DECEMBER 02, 2009 7:20 AM

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Lean back in a worn booth surrounded by wood-paneled walls. Hear a few beer bottles clank. See a silhouette in low-lights. Hands move rapidly as voices dance above the room’s cluttered racket. The scene repeats, fading into the Iowa City night.

Today, local and touring writers will share their voices in “The Big Idea” at 7 p.m. in the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St. The spoken-word event, occuring today and Dec. 9, derives from the basic idea of a poetry slam, but it emphasizes the open microphone rather than competition.

Organizer and self-proclaimed “Unofficial Slammaster of Iowa City” Julia Bemi hesitates to call the event a poetry slam, despite it being advertised as one on the venue’s website.

“The thing about a poetry slam is there are a lot of rules,” she said. “For [tonight’s show], I say, you got a prop, bring it. I don’t care. Read from a short story, an essay, whatever. Do what you want.”

“The Big Idea” will also feature a touring artist. Today, Milwaukee-based poet Dasha Kelly will take the stage.

“What I love about spoken word is the craft of making it solid and stand on its own on paper,” she said.

Kelly’s résumé includes performing on HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam” and being named by Written Word online magazine as one of the Top Ten up-and-coming writers in the Midwest. Kelly also works as a writing coach with many different programs, including prisons and underprivileged youth.

“[Poetry is] able to take these things on page and make them feel relevant,” the writer said. “I love having intimate exchange with people and embodying these stories. Every single poem, there’s always someone who needed to hear it.”

Kelly calls her work “very Seinfeld-ish,” but not in a joking manner. She said there are poems “about nothing” but encompass everyday themes for everyday people.

“We’ve all been heartbroken,” she said. “Had our hopes dashed. Been inspired by obscure, mundane things. All kinds of things — but it’s all about humanness.”

Along with the feature, “The Big Idea” provides a microphone for any local writers who want to test the Iowa City performance waters, including local poet David Saldua.

“I’m looking for a universal connective voice that appeals not only to a poet’s poet but appeals to the people who would love to still be reading poetry,” he said. “Often times in the current state of poetry, this environment has been created where poets are only writing for other educated people.”

Saldua said he believes his writing is meaningless if he doesn’t present it to others.

“Who would I be reading to — myself?” he said. “I perform because I write poetry. I’m performing to try to invigorate others with a voice and life.”

Through his words, he hopes to present revolutionary ideas to the everyday person.

“I hope to challenge common human beings to become better in what they believe about themselves,” he said.

The writer believes “The Big Idea” is a good setting because the organizers understand his message.

He believes the crowd that will be drawn will identify with his writings.

“Every soul needs a good dosage of poetry,” Saldua said. “Without it, the flower withers.”


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