Words at midnight

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by Chris Nafekh

“I am not Michael Brown,” poet D. Noble declared into the microphone. “That’s the wishful thinking of the already defeated, an empty slogan for those who’ve already conceded that this world can’t be radically changed, thus, there’s no incentive to organize and strategize to redirect our lives towards revolution.”

It was half-past midnight already when Noble recited his original poem “I Am Not That Corpse” at the National Black Theatre Festival on Aug. 8, and a crowd of 800 observers fell silent, listening to Noble’s impassioned prose. As he stood onstage at the Benton Convention Center in downtown Winston-Salem, a pinkish hue emanated from the lights above him; the rest of the auditorium remained dark.

“I am alive,” Noble continued. “I am alive! Which means there is no excuse to not struggle for revolution, study for revolution… organize for revolution. I am alive.”

Noble was one of dozens of poets that night on the third and final Midnight Poetry Jam. Before the show started, the ticket line outside the auditorium stretched around the massive downtown convention center. Complaints rumbled from those in the front of the line when the house managers attempted to reorganize the queue, for efficiency. Some people had waited an hour just to get inside the auditorium. The first session on Wednesday didn’t get much attention, a house manager said, and Thursday night’s event was rained out after a flash flood warning. But the final poetry jam on Friday evening drew hundreds of listeners and poets The poetry endured past 2:30 a.m. and the crowd never tired.

At midnight the floodgates opened and 800 tiny, cushioned seats were filled.

The audience, high on the tired euphoria of late-night celebration, breathed life into the auditorium. Though it was midnight, the congregation was wide awake.

The hosts walked on stage like rock musicians ready to tear something apart.

“Winston-Salem make some noise!” poet Helena D. Lewis shouted.

“Are you ready for some poetry!?” comedian Petri Byrd added.

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The crowd erupted around quarter-past midnight when the event finally commenced welcoming Noble and his tribute referencing Mike Brown, a teenager shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. almost exactly a year ago. After Noble, Dr. X walked on and recited softly sensual words, revealing fetishist prose.

“Those toes,” he said. “Those toes. Kissing them, caressing them, sucking on them, loving on them, ha-ha! Whoo! Those toes.”

“Those lips,” he said, and the crowd wooed.

“Those hips!” he bellowed, to the delighted gasps of the crowd.

“Lawdy, I’m whipped!” he cried, and the crowd filled the auditorium with laughter and applause.

Halfway through the show, the audience climbed onto the stage to take selfies with the hosts. The DJ boomed Michael Jackson and people in the front rows grooved lowdown and slowly.. When the event resumed, djembes and bongos resounded off the walls. Johnell Hunter and James Webb played the instruments on stage around 1 a.m. and their beats echoed through the auditorium. Hunger chanted “love, joy, peace and unity,” and every time he did, the audience yelled them right back.

Eurydice White, a Winston-Salem poet, grabbed the microphone when the hosts called her name. Angrily she challenged the audience in an expletive-laced piece.

“Man, f*** your poems,” White recited. “F*** your metaphors or lack thereof. F*** the poems you write after you watch TV, f*** your lack of experience, f*** your false crusades, f*** that s*** you spit and everything you say.

“I’m sick of charlatan poets with their self-righteous crap, throw a couple lines together all for a finger snap,” she continued. “I’ve paid my dues so you better show some respect…. I’m true to this and I write what I go through, I don’t need to reiterate all the local news… f*** your college degree.”

The poet Axiom took a more reserved approach, recounting a conversation between a slave-owner and an enslaved African, which started with the question, “What do you know about Jesus?”

In a thick accent, Axiom recited the slave’s response. “I have heard of this man you call Christ. His passion deeds, sacrifice …his mother Mary, crying, unaware her son was bought three years away from perfection, three days from resurrection and a spear’s throw from heaven and I believe… he must have looked like me.”