Guest post by Sarah Matalone
When you think of the Main Street Arena, poetry is not likely to be the first thing that comes to mind. But amidst spindly café tables and a bar with TVs broadcasting live sports, Anthony Amos and Vaughn Yountz attempt to provide a “stepping stone” for artists.
A year ago, the pair created an event called Just Lyricz, an open mic and poetry jam that draws an eclectic sampling of poetic and musical performances, from spoken word poetry to hip-hop to “rants” to electric guitar solos to, as Amos phrased it, “whatever.” Any willing participants can go up to the stage to perform their piece while Amos, a DJ, lends his skills in between performances.
His video mixes roll continuously throughout the evening on four Samsung flat screens, showcasing, to name a few of the slides, a fact about former Poet Laureate and UVA Professor, Rita Dove, a quote from former president, George W. Bush and a simple slide with the word, “Poetry” emblazoned in elegant cursive script, all of which show Amos’s intent to mix entertainment and education.
The diverse crowd that attends the jam is a testament to another of Amos and Yountz’s visions for Just Lyricz: to bring people of different races, genders, ages and backgrounds out to value community self-expression. Eight-year-old girls and their parents, high school students, a UVA student, a husband-wife-two-daughter family (who happened to be the featured performers that night), and a septuagenarian, all seemed to enjoy themselves.
“This is our favorite event to go to now,” a mother told me, all smiles, of she and her daughter’s experiences at Just Lyricz. It’s difficult to argue with her joviality when Yountz, the host and a spoken word poet himself, also plays the role of comedian, throwing out aphoristic jokes to young performers like “make sure you eat your vegetables” in between performances.
But most impressve are the performances. Starting off the evening, Vaughn began with his own poem, voicing out amid the din, “my grief stays hidden like a coral reef.” Another poet began with a Wordsworthian rant, asking of us, “can you create something beautiful out of the simple words?” Camisha Jones philosophized, “there is something profound about a woman who knows her own name.” In a spoken word duet riffing off of Frost’s, “The Road Not Taken,” two poets delivered a sort of ars poetica in which they argued, “poets are prophets who point out things that you miss,” a poem containing a mélange of allusions to Milton, Morgan Freeman, Rosa Parks, Prometheus Unbound, William Wallace and Wallace Stevens.
Whether providing a “window” for the locals, for urban art, or for poetry more generally, it’s true what Amos says: “You never know what you’re gonna get.”