By Kevin Hebert
Baton Rouge isn’t known for having a relatively huge local art scene, but the Eclectic Truth Poetry Slam and Open Mic has been working to change that for years.
Eclectic Truth is put on by Baton Rouge’s Poetry Alliance, and it can be found every Tuesday night at the Arts Council downtown from 7:30-10 p.m.
Baton Rouge began to host the first of its poetry slams in 1998. Six years later, there was also an open mic night going around the city. These two events combined in 2003 to form the Eclectic Truth Poetry Slam and Open Mic. Since then, the event has been run by the Poetry Alliance. Several venues have hosted the, all with varying success, however, popularity has soared since the slam found a home in the Arts Council two years ago.
“It wasn’t that these other venues were too small or anything,” said Donney Rose, a member of the Poetry Alliance and marketing director for Forward Arts. “They just weren’t warm or inviting. We wanted a place that was comfortable and legitimizing, and that ended up being the Arts Council.”
At the beginning of the evening, anyone wishing to compete is given a chance to sign up. The night is split into two segments, with the slam going first and the open mic second. Any featured artists perform in between the two events.
There is also Freshhhh Heat, a poetry event put on by Forward Arts created as a way to help encourage those of all ages to come forward and share.
Rose, a native of Baton Rouge, believes that this grouping by age has brought on a tremendous growth in the youth poetry scene.
“You had these kids who were afraid to compete because they were going against their mentors,” he said. “They’d be too embarrassed to speak their mind in front of all of these adults. Now there’s a chance for them to come forward without any barriers.”
To adjust for size, the youth side of Eclectic Truth is held at the Shaw Center for Performing Arts. On average, it is nearly a full house, with 250 people in attendance, including the 10 or so competitors.
“They actually had to put a cap on how many people we could have. It started to become a fire hazard,” Rose laughed.
When asked how the two halves worked together, Rose replied that it was a mutually beneficial relationship.
“Over the last eight to nine years, the youth spoken word has really shined a light on the adult scene.”
Rose believes the two parts have pushed each other to be stronger.
“I see teenagers at 18, 19-years-old who are writing better poetry than I was at 25-years-old. These incredible kids are putting their mentors on their toes. It’s made this a really competitive yet friendly atmosphere.”
Although Eclectic Truth is held every Tuesday in downtown Baton Rouge, many of the poets have begun to travel beyond Laurel Street.
Poetry Slam Incorporated, which is the national organization for slam poetry, hosts three national events per year: one for any individual poet, one for any woman poet and one for any poetry team.
Two years ago, the Eclectic Truth Poetry Slam adopted a competitive slam poetry season. Judges, who are randomly picked audience members to ensure fairness, pick a group of winners every night. Each poet is assigned points by his or her rank and these points are tallied up at the end of the season.
At the end of the season, entrants are selected for all three national competitions. In addition, these individuals or teams have the opportunity to compete in any regional events. This year, Baton Rouge has actually begun to host its own regional events, a team and an individual one, at the Arts Council.
Since its creation in 2003, this event has always been an open space for any and all types of expression. However, the Poetry Alliance has been working to expand this idea by making it more than a space to vent. In more recent years, Eclectic Truth has begun to evolve from a small-time poetry slam into one that is inching towards the national spotlight.