Underground Poetry Spot

By Melissa Lyons

Artistic Confessional

photograph by Melissa Lyons

“I felt like I was on a cloud, and I didn’t even know if I was in the building,” said Seneca Wilson, describing the night he launched the Underground Poetry spot.

The Underground is located in the New Fuji Buffet Restaurant in Syracuse, and brings students and community members together to perform their poetry on the first and third Thursdays of every month.

During the day, Wilson is the assistant director of Recreational Services in Archbold Gym, but on Thursday evenings, he unleashes his artistic side. He believed that the Syracuse community needed an outlet to share its creativity on a regular basis, and his infatuation with poetry led him to create the Underground.

The Underground began to flourish after Wilson found five other poets to join the project, and he currently has a team of eight official poets and an executive board. He stressed that after first experiencing the Underground’s positive and welcoming environment, customers ultimately come back for more.

During one performance night in February, the lights dimmed and relaxing music played in the background. Students and community members milled about, soaking up the energy in the room.

Marquis Woolford, one of the official poets and the night’s host, thanked everyone for their support but also poked fun at his tardy arrival — he had been tied up playing Xbox. “Y’all my cousins and brothers, this is where I go to when I get inspired!” Woolford shouted. “I don’t have a religion, this is my religion.”

The crowd stood as poets recited verses about topics ranging from family and relationships to education and violence. The poets showcased unique performance styles — some were bold and daring, while others were cool, sexy, and sophisticated.

Syracuse University freshman Yabel Mendez performed for the first time at the Underground in February. In her poem, she mentioned the need for people to come together to help the community. “I think there are a lot of benefits [to sharing poetry],” Mendez said. “It’s a beautiful way to express yourself, and getting the crowd’s responses is just a beautiful feeling. It’s better than getting drunk or high.”

The uncensored poets refused to hold back uncomfortable or shocking details that might offend the audience. Simone Owens, one of the Underground’s official poets, tackled the all-too-familiar topics of relationships and self-worth using a Raggedy Ann doll to express the abuse and neglect that result from being taken for granted by a significant other.

“Just call me Annie, you know, short for Raggedy Ann,” she said. “Fold me over, bend me here, push me to another corner. If and when I get in your way, don’t hesitate to find a comforting way to say: ‘I don’t want you but I’ll take what I can from you for right now.’ And it won’t matter how you say it. My poorly-painted face will show you the same expression — dull,” Owens said.

Michael “Mic tha poet” Gaut, also on the executive board, described the art of sharing poetry in Lost and Found.

“What is it all worth in a nutshell?” Gaut asked. “Is it the obligation of the philosopher poet to prophesize and reflect with ponderous pen and nostalgic notebook? Or is it enough to entertain like metaphorical clowns?”

Gaut insisted that poetry is more than just sharing words. “Any poet would tell you that writing is a form of therapy…the most gratifying thing is encouraging someone else,” he said. “It’s great when you get positive feedback for something that you put your heart into.”

Wilson needed a main source of funding, so now he charges patrons a $3 entry fee to cover electronic expenses to bring in international poets. Wilson is also trying to draw in outside sponsors and poets with plans to branch out and open more Underground Poetry Spots. This would give poets the chance to perform at different venues, in front of new audiences.

“The Underground is like a second home,” Owens said. “Everyone says it’s like a family, and it really is.I think great poets don’t hold back, and they don’t have to rehearse — it’s just inside of them.” Encouraging others through poems lets people know they’re not alone in the desire to express their innermost thoughts, Owens stated.

The Underground has blossomed since its humble beginnings, but Wilson sees it becoming something much bigger for the community.

“Each performance leaves an impression,” Wilson said. “I see the potential, and sometimes it’s unstoppable what you can do. Every night is a bit special.”