When it comes to mastering the art of poetry, or at least seemingly evolving the form itself for better with every piece that they do, I would say in my personal opinion, The Strivers Row are hands down the best performance collective I know of.
So Who Are The Strivers Row?
The Strivers Row are an American based award-winning collective comprising of poets, musicians, dramatists and performers, birthed in 2010. It consists of Alysia Harris, Jasmine Mans, Joshua Bennett, Carvens Lissaint, Zora Howard and Miles Hodges who specialize in spoken word. The most recent additions to the collective are the musically based Jennah Bell and Brandee Younger.
I was introduced to the Strivers Row by a friend who sang the praises of Joshua Bennet. Admittedly, it was at a point where I was beginning to tire of spoken word, as I felt that a lot of it was sounding the same, and that the performance aspect of it was often exalted so much to the point that the lyrical content of some poets’ pieces suffered. Gesticulations, staccato speech, and indefinite pauses were, in many of the poets I was watching, used to cover up lazily constructed wordplays and poems that quite frankly could not be listened to without a very comprehensive dictionary on hand to aid translation. You know when you clap because everyone else is clapping, but if someone asked you what was just said and to explain why you were clapping, it’s be like someone asking you how do you get to Mars without a space suit? That.
However, I was pleasantly surprised and excited by some of the videos I watched of Joshua Bennett’s poems. Most famously his poem 10 Things I Want To Say To A Black Woman. I actually had the opportunity to see him perform it live at an event in London called The Writer’s Lounge, and let’s just say he tore the roof off. It was almost a riot. From watching Joshua’s videos, I became more interested and aware of the equally fantastic capabilities of the rest of the crew and began to love some of their work too. Some of my favourite pieces are the collaborations such as Gardenia by Jasmine Mans and Jennah Bell, and Doing It Wrong by Miles Hodges and Alysia Harris. Another recent favourite of mine is I Know You Didn’t Mean To Kill Him by Jasmine Mans.
I’ve not really delved into a description of any of the pieces I’ve mentioned, for a reason. What The Row do is not something that can be reasonably encompassed in a few succinct lines. Every piece is an experience, something that takes you on a journey, and most importantly, in my personal opinion, makes you think. This is why for me, they are at the top of their game, in high demand, and have had the blessing and opportunity to perform at highly prestigious events such as Def Poetry Jam, The Apollo and The White House. The art of communication is not just about opening your mouth to speak, most people can do that, and many master that. But the delivery, is what seals the deal, and The Strivers each in their own individual way have successfully embodied this in their work, and have continued to hone it, never getting too complacent or comfortable in their own standard but always striving to raise their own bar. That uncompromising dedication to their form, and the fact that many of them are simultaneously studying in some of the the top US colleges doing Masters and PhDs, is one of multiple reasons why I respect them, and why I am excited about what’s happening in December 2012.
What’s Happening In December 2012?
For the first time ever, the poets of The Strivers Row will be coming to England to perform three shows in London and Manchester and hold poetry workshops! This exclusive tour is called ‘The Exchange’ and it is a great privilege as a European fan, to be able to go and watch them perform as opposed to watching a YouTube video. I can only imagine what the stage presence will be like. In addition to this, they will be supported by homegrown acts Warsan Shire, JP Cooper, and Danish-born Marie Dahlstrom, the latter two whom I’ve seen live and can genuinely say are very soulful and talented acts.
Saturday 15th December – The Pipeline Bar, 94 Middlesex Street, City Of London, E1 7DA
Tuesday 18th December – Haberdashers’ Aske’s, New Cross, London, SE14 5SF
Monday 17th December – Dry Bar, 28-30 Oldham Street, Manchester, M1 1JN
Tuesday 18th December – The Cruciform Building, University College London, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT.
For more information and to purchase tickets visit http://theexchangeevent.tumblr.com/
If word of mouth stands for anything these days, I urge you to experience for yourself, the multi-dimensional lyrical prowess of The Strivers Row poets by visiting their YouTube channel (link here), and taking some time to watch some of their videos. Even let me know what you think. For now, you can find them in these places:
Don’t forget to get your ticket for the show! If you can make it, you really don’t want to miss out.
It’s going to be absolutely off the chain.