It's OK if poetry isn't your thing. Blank Page Poetry isn't your typical poetry performance.
And it doesn't matter what church you go to (or if you go at all). The next Blank Page Poetry program at St. Peter's Episcopal Church will be non-liturgical and is open to every denomination and every faith (or lack thereof).
It also doesn't matter if you're black, white or of any other racial or ethnic background. It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, or if you're male or female, or how you identify and what demographic you fall into. Blank Page Poetry creates a space of intersection where everyone is welcome and every voice is uplifted. It's something that Savannah needs, as does the rest of the world. It's also definitely, emphatically not politically partisan in nature.
“I have no idea what the political affiliation is of any of the poets. It's not an issue,” says artist Jerome Meadows, creator of Blank Page Poetry. “What is at issue is their expressive voice. They're fostering a cultural dialogue that is usually left out of the conversation. That's one of the reasons I think this is so important.”
Meadows has been producing Blank Page Poetry since 2012, in addition to his various individual artistic efforts. His idea for BPP is to feature poetry in a visually compelling way to connect with audiences who may or may not be poetry enthusiasts. A BPP performance features poets and dancers silhouetted behind a blank canvas with select words and phrases projected onto their shadows as they perform behind the page.
“In shadow, we all kind of become the same,” says Meadows.
The performance at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 8 at St. Peter's, “Waters Avenue: Voices Along the Corridor,” is a continuation of the Living Waters project, a partnership between Meadows and St. Peter's that began around this time last year when the church exhibited some of Meadows' assemblage artworks at their location on Skidaway Island. The concept is about connecting all the various communities along the Waters Avenue corridor in a way that benefits everyone.
“For us it's an idea to focus our energy, time, money, and interest,” says the Rev. Hunt Priest, rector at St. Peter's, “to try to connect the religious institutions, the schools, and the social service agencies along this long street that has a lot of diversity of income and race.”
The Nov. 8 presentation will include a diverse range of perspectives from nearly a dozen performers, including Rayshawn Roberts, an actor and fourth-grade teacher at Hesse Elementary; Gail Smith, a writer and specialist in Gullah Geechee culture whose lineage is deeply connected to the Pin Point community; and Susan Earl, a noted author and Savannah native whose books include “In the Dark” and “Harrington's Way.”
Earl is not a poet per se, but Meadows encouraged her to take some of her prose and adapt it to the BPP format.
“I did take two excerpts from my Savannah novel, ‘In the Dark' and adapt them,” says Earl. “One of my novel's characters is an abstract-expressionist painter who has a storefront studio on Waters Avenue that had been a church. One of the poems is him imagining a prayer service in the vacant space when he sees it for the first time. The other one is about him alone in the space at night, working.”
These types of scenes are what BPP excels at evoking, expanding the audience's mental landscape and taking them to places they have perhaps never imagined before. At its heart, BPP is about opening up conversations between disparate communities. Despite all the violence and negative rhetoric in the world, a conversation can be a very powerful thing. If it's sincere, it can lead to real solutions and real answers.
“One of the things that I really appreciate working with St. Peter's is that phone calls get answered, meetings are attended and things are being actualized,” says Meadows. “You find the fellow visionaries, you find the people who share the idea, and you get together with them... If you get together with other people who are about solutions, things happen.”
“It's called leadership,” laughs Priest. “We're at the point where it has to be grassroots and it has to be about relationships. And the cultural institutions, schools, churches, synagogues, community clubs, committees of citizens, that's where stuff can happen... It's about finding like-minded people, regardless of politics or any of the other things that are set up as things that separate us, to find the common points and find the solutions.”
“The idea is to take Waters Avenue as a corridor and all of its multiple stories and conflicts and contradictions and find something about it that's common in terms of something we can all share. Regardless of our politics, regardless of our economics, we can all share it,” says Meadows. “So I'm hoping that the conversations that happen in the reception afterward, this dialogue is continuing... This is by no means the end of the dialogue. It's a start of the dialogue.”
Kristopher Monroe is a writer documenting the intersection of art and community. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @savartscene.