Michael Quess Moore, aka A Scribe called Quess, is one of the poets performing at the New Orleans Poetry Festival (photos by: Fernando Lopez)
On Friday, April 20, the New Orleans Healing Center will be taken over by poets. The New Orleans Poetry Festival, which is a three-day festival that brings panels, poetry readings, and the community together, has chosen the Healing Center as its main stage, and it’s hard not to see the connection there. Healing? Poetry? That can’t just be a coincidence, especially since poetry is a form of writing that often strikes fear into the hearts of even the most confident.
Think about it. If you go up to a person and ask them, “Have you read this novel?” or “Did you see that article about transhumanism?” there’s inquiry and maybe even a promise to “check it out” in order to continue the conversation. But ask someone, “Will you read this poem so we can discuss it?” and responses of “I don’t get poetry” or “poetry is so hard” tumble out of a terrified face that shows serious signs of academic PTSD.
Poetry can take on so many forms, messages, feelings, and even shapes. As poet Michael Quess Moore, aka A Scribe Called Quess, explains, being a poet, “It’s a lot of ups and downs and twists and turns…You will get to know people a lot quicker than you do others, sometimes, because of the nature of what we are putting out.”
What they are putting out is what they had to go deep inside to find, whether that be a new eye for observation on an everyday object or an expression of feelings that can’t be put into words. Yet, words they find, and those words are antagonized over until the right rhythm, the right cadence, the right alliteration, or the right mood is unveiled.
Even though poets “perform” their pieces, they aren’t always jumping into a new character or a new body. In fact, they often have to jump into parts of themselves that they weren’t even aware existed, and then, they share that with an audience of strangers. Moore says it’s “…that blood letting that we voluntarily do,” and it connects poets to the listeners and definitely other poets because, as Moore says, “We know the stories behind each other’s story and the story behind that story half the time.”
But what about those who are first time listeners, which will be the case at the New Orleans Poetry Festival? Political concepts, inside jokes, and geographical references could leave audience members feeling lost rather than found in the words being spoken before them. Poets think about this. As Moore says, “I always think about the nature of my piece and what I have to say and who I’m about to say it in front of…I always want to give as much as I’m available for, but at the same time I like to think about the nature of the crowd and the size of the crowd.”
And for the New Orleans Poetry Festival, that crowd could range from 10 people to 50+ people, and those listeners range from poetry novices to published poets and presenters. But this does not intimidate Moore; in fact, he welcomes these opportunities where people from all different backgrounds and all different demographics can come together to think and share. “You have to sit in the same place and have a conversation with each other so we can work through the ‘awkward sauce,'” Moore says, and poetry is an avenue straight to the heart of that awkward sauce. Some people fear it because they don’t understand it; others fear it because they understand it perfectly, and it erupts an unshaken area in their life.
So why do we create poetry? Why do we have a festival around it? In many ways–as history and present tragedies have shown–we don’t always know how to be human beings to each other, and poetry is a way to bridge that gap.
As Audre Lorde says, “…poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”
Now that’s worth having a festival over.
You can see Michael Quess Moore as well as other poets perform at the New Orleans Poetry Festival, which will run from Friday, April 20 through Sunday, April 22. Ticket vary in price, and you can purchase them here. For full details on the events and presenters at New Orleans Poetry Festival, you can check out their website. To learn more about Michael Quess Moore, his poetry, and his readings, you can follow him on Facebook and Instagram.