At what point do the words someone speaks become "spoken word"? When they crack open a dusty book and begin to read out loud? When their speech becomes inundated with unnecessary lumbering adjectives, loquacious five-cent words and similes that are, like, bad?
Or is it when an entire chattering room is suddenly silenced by the rhythm and presence of one person's voice, a passionate voice that holds the attention of everyone in the room, even the most easily distracted?
That arresting voice could belong to any of the members of Fighting Words Poetry, a record label and collective for spoken word artists. The label is the brainchild of the group's head honcho, aLLEN iMAGERY, a longtime trendsetter in the Indianapolis poetry community. iMAGERY, who hosts several regularly-held poetry readings around town, has become somewhat of an elder statesman of the spoken word, supporting emerging talent and creating opportunities for other poets to express themselves.
Fighting Words recently released their first CD, Lights Out
, an inspired collection of spoken word gems backed by sparse and soulful musical tracks, and the group plans to drop a new project every quarter of 2009.
In an e-mail interview, iMAGERY elaborated on what led him to form the label. "It was birthed out of the same necessity that forced me to take the reigns of the scene in the beginning," he says. "There wasn't anything like it anywhere that I know of. A label that specializes in only poets? Not a rap label that sees the potential growth and opportunity to exploit. Not an R&B label that just wants a poet to do a few lines on someone else's songs. But a label to nurture poets."
iMAGERY feels the scene is underrated, but sees an advantage in that. "No one will see us coming," he predicts. "Indianapolis isn't known as a great place full of poets, yet. But in due season, that will change."
iMAGERY imagines the poetry scene will begin meshing with the music scene more often, but he laments that poets don't yet get the respect they deserve in most places. But he says he knows that nothing can happen in this town if you don't make it happen yourself. So rather than complain about the lack of opportunities, he took action.
"There was a void, man," iMAGERY says. "It's kinda like when your girl breaks up with you in middle school because she's moving away. I had two choices: I could cry about it, or I could walk up to the finest girl in school and try to holla. I guess the leadership was birthed out of desire."
iMAGERY continues to find inspiration for his poetry, most notably from his 4-year-old daughter. He's emboldened by the look of pride she gives him whenever she sees him perform. He has even recorded her on a track for a domestic violence awareness charity CD.
For iMAGERY, poetry is a ministry. "I want to heal people with my poetry," he says. "The Bible says we have the power of life and death in our tongues. I want to speak life into people's situations." His goal with every reading, whether with other Fighting Words Poetry members, backed by musicians or solo, is for people to leave inspired. "That's a prerequisite to be on the label," he says. "You have to inspire me. Only those poets that will challenge me to become a better poet can be part of this label."
So far, he's got a winning roster, from the hip-hop influenced, raw style of Tony Styxx to the rhythmic and deep musings of St. Peace, and from the hip yet unguarded confessions of Mike Perez to the work of the lone female, nSAYchable, whose breakneck delivery and intensely personal subject matter leave the audience breathless every time.
iMAGERY has confidence in his able crew, his dream team of poet co-conspirators. "That is the only way to be sure that we will always be the hottest poetic unit on the planet."
Recordings by Fighting Words Poetry are available at www.fightingwordspoetry.com. aLLEN imagery hosts poetry readings at three locations throughout the month.
Midtown Arts & Coffee Lounge, 519 E. 38th St.
Sundays, 8-11 p.m., $5
Broad Ripple Starbucks, 854 Broad Ripple Ave.
Third Friday of each month, 8-11 p.m., free
The Jazz Kitchen, 5377 N. College Ave.
Second through fourth Wednesdays, 8-10 p.m., $5