By Jennifer Sadler
As the most comprehensive online events guide and resource for arts and culture in central Ohio, ColumbusArts.com offers a virtual guide through the Columbus art world with a searchable database of events, concerts, performances and more. ColumbusArts.com is an engaging place for artists and arts organizations to share what they do, with an average of 30,000 users per month. The ColumbusArts.com Artist Directory allows visual, performing and literary artists to create a profile and portfolio to showcase their work—for free—and enables art enthusiasts to easily search for and connect with them. Our monthly ColumbusArts.com artist profile series features interviews with a few of the many talented individuals who make up central Ohio’s thriving creative community. In honor of National Poetry Month this April, GCAC recently interviewed slam poet Scott Woods to learn more about his work as an artist in Columbus.
GCAC: Are you from Columbus? If not, what brought you here?
Scott Woods: Raised my whole life in Columbus.
GCAC: When did you realize you had a gift for poetry and performing it?
SW: I always wrote poetry, but was never aware of an opportunity to share it in public until I was an adult. And once I discovered that avenue, it was a done deal: I would very rarely go on to write much that I didn't intend to perform in some way, in some space. In all fairness, I don't think I got any good at it until I got much older.
GCAC: Do you remember your first open mic experience? Can you share a little about it?
SW: I do! It was around 1995 or 1996 and it was in a reading that a couple of ladies had started in their apartment on the east side. It was very "love jones", with 50 people crammed into this apartment reading by candlelight. It was supposed to be soulful but it was mostly people pulling out whatever they had written, for better or worse. I read about five poems that night because they seemed to really respond to it. But then, I'd been writing for years so I had a lot of work to pull from when the opportunity presented itself.
GCAC: When did you get involved in poetry slamming? And what led to coaching and serving as a leader in the field?
SW: Not until about 1998 or so. The Writers' Block Poetry Night that I'm involved with had just been open mics up to that point for a few years, but I discovered that there were these national competitions of poetry and I introduced that to the shows we were doing. In 2000 we entered our first regional competition and it was pretty much a done deal after that: Slam every year, multiple times a year. I was introduced to the national community in 2001 and I was made a member of the Executive Council of the non-profit that runs the national contests, Poetry Slam, Inc. I became president of PSI in 2005 and the rest is history, depending on who's writing the book.
GCAC: Participating in national and world poetry slams with so many talented poets must be daunting. What do you do to psych yourself up for these competitions?
SW: I trust my poems. I spend a lot of time making my poems work, in making them engaging. I spend a little time on my performance, which is the exact opposite of a lot of performance poets. Most of them spend a lot of time on their performance and memorizing. I spend that time editing my poems. When you trust your poems, you give yourself over to the experience of sharing them, and that makes me feel good no matter who is in the room.
GCAC: Why do you think Columbus has been able to foster such a thriving poetry scene?
SW: Because it's something that everyone can do. It's the one art form that doesn't require you to spend money to create at the level that people are willing to pay attention to. And once you open that floodgate, it's like cloning poets into existence. But Columbus has always had a poetry scene. So long as there are microphones there will be people wanting to use them. It's human nature. Columbus just happens to have the right mix of resources versus professional opportunity that keeps poets trying to build and grow their art.
GCAC: We’re thrilled to have you back at the Columbus Arts Festival this year hosting the annual Festival Poetry Slam. For those who have never before had the pleasure of a slam experience, can you describe what it’s about and how you select the poets who will perform at the Festival?
SW: A slam is a mock competition, intended to engage audiences in the joy and revelry of poetry. The slams we do at the Columbus Arts Festival tend to take that to the max, and I handpick poets each year based on what they're doing on the scene at that time, what they're trying to do with their art, and if they're capable of helping me put on a good, fun show. It is virtually impossible for you to get in my slam if you don't participate in the poetry scene in town. Most importantly, it's supposed to all be in jest, so I wouldn't do it if I couldn't have fun with it. Poetry isn't boring. People are boring. I try to keep that maxim in the forefront of what we showcase.
Check out Woods' bio at ColumbusArts.com. Click here to find out more about Writers' Block Poetry, hosted by Woods every Wednesday evening at Kafe Kerouac. Just type in "Scott Woods" on YouTube.com and you can see some of his live performances. One of our favorites that we found while doing a bit of research, is titled To the Thug Who Broke into His English Teachers' Car.
Image courtesy of Scott Woods.