When the audience settled into their seats at Poetry in Motion on a recent Saturday, the emcee, Damonni Farley, assured the crowd that the poetry and music they were about to hear would make them laugh, cry, and get angry all at the same time.
The Schenectady native thought of the idea for the spoken word poetry show four years ago, after a conversation with a friend about the lack of nightlife and venues for area urban artists in the city.
“We were at a bar and I was saying that we really need a place for adults to hang out, hear some good music, maybe get dressed up a little bit, and have a good time,” Farley, a community activist and city native, told an audience Saturday night. “The bartender said, ‘No way, not in Schenectady, there’s not enough interest or talent’. After four years of doing this show, it’s clear that he was wrong.”
When Farley founded Poetry In Motion, he wanted to focus on the talents of Schenectady’s poets and musicians in order to give a voice to the community. “There’s a certain aspect of activism and empowerment, too,” he said. “We want to give local artists a place to express their talent,” he said.
At his first show, the 60 seats available at Yours Jazz Night Club were not enough to meet audience demand, and Farley said that he had to turn people away at the door.
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Go to www.poetryinmotion 518.com.
Poetry in Motion eventually found a bigger place at Proctors GE Theatre, seating an average of 300 guests per show. The show is now presented three times a year.
The atmosphere at each show is reminiscent of a lounge with its low, colorful lighting, and Farley encouraged the audience to sit back and relax. The night was centered on soulful R&B and hip hop music, which had audience members up on their feet and grooving to the music.
“We’re trying to add a new flavor to the urban culture here,” said Hector Ramirez, who joined with Farley to organize the event.
Ramirez explained that Poetry in Motion seeks to provide Schenectady with a visible outlet for urban artists to express their talents, and he often finds that audience members are shocked by the quality of local performers of spoken word poetry — poetry intended to be heard rather than read.
“People don’t expect such talent because there has never been a place to really showcase it in Schenectady,” added Ramirez.
The local talent included Schenectady high schoolers Terrance Frost and Julia Santana, who stole the night with their soulful acoustic performance of an original composition. Farley said he heard Frost singing and playing guitar behind Proctors before a John Legend show, and invited him to perform in his show.
While the musical talents of Frost and Santana had the audience screaming for an encore, the crowd quieted for poet Jesica Blandon to hear her poem about race in America.
Originally from the Bronx, Blandon is a veteran spoken word poet and writer. She says the event has come a long way since she performed in the first Poetry in Motion four years ago.
“I heard about Schenectady for the first time from a filmmaker who told me there was nothing here culturewise, that it was a waste of space. But I know that’s not true,” Blandon said. “These people are bringing life to Schenectady; it’s a beautiful town that deserves it.”
Staying true to their pledge to promote positive energy and activism, the organizers donate a portion of the funds raised at each Poetry in Motion show to the Hamilton Hill Art Center on Schenectady Street.
The art center teaches children to focus their energy into creative outlets like drumming and dancing. To showcase the center’s impact on Schenectady youth, Farley opened the show with performances by young Umoja African drummers from Hamilton Hill.
“I wish they would do this more often, there’s too much drama in a club atmosphere. This is a fun and relaxing night,” said Christina Peek, a veteran Poetry in Motion attendee.