Vocab, the monthly poetry reading at the Broad Ripple nightclub Casba, has been going strong for over a year. The main organizer, Tatjana - who's also known by her stage name, Rebelle - has done a commendable job cultivating a diverse gathering of poets and musicians in the literally underground club. Each month a different poet, record label, or collective is featured along with a musical guest. DJ Scott Metalic, along with Rebelle, are there every month. There is usually an open mic portion, during which a rotation of regulars and new voices take their turns.
The featured group at Vocab on Jan. 6 was Fighting Words Poetry, a collection of four local spoken-word powerhouses. But more about them later.
As I arrived, Tatjana was on the mic, delivering verse in her soft-spoken yet attention-commanding style. Over the many months of Vocab's history, I've seen a profound growth in her style. Or maybe I've just seen her alter-ego, Rebelle, grow stronger within her. But her honest writing and the ever-increasing confidence that she has in her delivery have put her in the ranks of the Indianapolis elite. Credit must also be given to someone who can help keep a room of alcohol drinkers quiet while one person speaks a capella.
When Rebelle finished, Scott Metalic took over on the turntables, effortlessly blending Miami booty rap and Talking Heads. Metalic has the gift of playing the songs you didn't know you wanted to hear. It's no challenge for Metalic to get the crowd dancing during the five to 10 minute sets that he spins between open mic performers.
The musical feature, The Ben Ishmael Revival, played next. The group consists of an electric guitar, two keyboard/effects players and a drummer, sometimes on kit as well as drum machines. Their set was entirely improvised, and the players' skill level meat that there was didn't wander for long before finding sweet spots in the groove. Though the sound definitely got painfully loud, the music was undeniably cool. Think of them as a techno/hip-hop band with a jazz mindset.
Then came the feature, Fighting Words Poetry. This quartet of poets absolutely brought the house down. Led by longtime scene guru aLLEN iMAGERY, the crew barely left enough time for the raucous applause after every piece before the next poet would begin, often forgoing the mic and projecting just as effectively as if they had one. The stylistically dressed pHarez applied an east coast flow to the Hoosier heartland. Tony Styxx used the other voices in his crew like a hip-hop choir, punctuating points and rhymes. A new member, St. Peace, brought an emotive and powerful delivery. aLLEN iMAGERY recited a few pieces that have been in his repertoire a few years, and for the most part seemed content to lay back and let his crew have the spotlight.
The lone female in Fighting Words Poetry, nSAYchable, might be the illest one of all. She fires words at a breakneck pace that requires active listening and this night the crowd hung on every word. In her final poem, she bravely examined a delicately personal subject matter that most shy away from, and a unified audience erupted in appreciation.
I was asked by Tatjana to lead off on the open mic, and performed one piece of my own. Then I led the room in singing a call and response of a classic Langston Hughes poem line for line.
Finally, I saw Khalil Jaheez recite a long exert from his own screenplay in which he plays both a prostitute and a john. The passage has many highlights, but because of both the length and raw subject matter of the piece, some people in the room began to lose interest.
As the open mic continued, I slipped out the door thoroughly satisfied with the night's proceedings, and headed home to relieve the babysitter.