Marcus Amaker

Charleston Poet Laureate Marcus Amaker is the force behind the Free Verse Poetry Festival.

It’s been a tough go the past few months for the spoken word community in Charleston. With the closing of Eclectic Vinyl in May, and with Pure Theatre on the move, local poets and spoken word artists have had to seek alternative venues.

Starting at 7 p.m. Sept. 24, the Queen Street Playhouse (home to the Footlight Players) will host one such event, The Unspoken Word Poetry Nights series, co-organized by Charleston's Poet Laureate Marcus Amaker. It's a natural partnership, he says.

Marcus Amaker 2

Marcus Amaker organized a new Unspoken Word Poetry Nights series. 

“I played some music for Footlight Players recently, and got to reconnect with their new executive director, Brian Porter,” Amaker says. “I’ve always loved that space but hadn’t had the opportunity to do a lot of shows there. Brian is really easy to work with and they were looking to do more community programming and we were looking for a space. So, it was a great fit.”

The Unspoken Word series and the literary nonprofit behind it, has been providing opportunities for poets with regular readings, workshops and community events since 2013. Started by AJ Johnson (Khalil Ali) and Derek Berry, the series has enjoyed five monthly events at Pure Theatre.

Now, at Queen Street Playhouse, the series will include a poetry night that features emerging poets and an open mic the last Monday of each month. Another event is planned for Oct. 29.

The event scheduled for Sept. 24 will spotlight poet Vanessa Harris of Augusta, Ga. A singer, songwriter and spoken word artist, she is known in the Augusta area for her song-infused style of spoken word.

For those interested in participating in the open mic portion of the evening, message The Unspoken Word on Facebook at @UnspokenWordsmiths or arrive at the event 30 minutes early to snag a spot on in the lineup.

Amaker also is looking forward to next month's Free Verse Poetry Festival — and the chance to expand the definition of a festival. The mission is to uplift the community by staging eclectic poetry events and workshops. The festival is in its second year.

Amaker says this year will be different because, in addition to a week of traditional poetry events Oct. 17-24, “there’s going to be a month-long initiative where we are doing poetry as public art.”

This means a city full of poems, with verse written on the windows of participating businesses, and on bikes. What's more, flyers designed to simulate lost pet notices will be distributed throughout the city with a poem and a phone number you can call for more information. On the other end of the line someone will read that poem aloud. The campaign is called “lost poems.”

Amaker also is working on a young adult novel, written in verse, with the encouragement of Newbery Award-winning author Kwame Alexander.

“Poetry allows people to speak the truth,” says Amaker. “It is meant for intentional conversation, and I believe that people want more intentional conversation, not just small talk.”

He adds: “Charleston in particular has gone through a lot ... We are at Ground Zero of a lot of change, whether we are talking about race or our gay community. For a lot of marginalized communities, poetry allows people to express themselves. And I’m hoping that the festival, and Unspoken Word amplifies those voices.”

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