“When I say power, y’all say poetry! Power!”
On a Wednesday evening in late February, Power 2 the Poetry co-founder A.J. McKinney led the nearly 200 people gathered in Auntie’s Bookstore for Power 2 the Poetry’s poetry slam in a chant.
Host Twahan Simultaneous then explained the rules for the slam: Ten poets would get three minutes each to perform a poem, with five judges scoring, though audience members could sway the judges by cheering for their favorite poets.
“What you get out of the night is what you put into it,” he said.
The next hour and a half was full of poems about life with schizophrenia, the Pulse nigtlclub shooting in Orlando, being an enlightened man rather than a lost boy, fostering a “unicornicopia” of compassion and kindness, and more.
After two rounds, it was down to poets Salem del Cielo, who received the night’s only perfect score of 50 in the semi-final round, and Devin Devine, with Devine taking the top prize, $100 provided by House of Soul.
This open mic was only the second Power 2 the Poetry-organized event since the group, which works to provide a platform for underrepresented voices, including people of color, LGBTQ+, women and millennials, was founded in January.
The idea for Power 2 the Poetry popped into co-founder Bethany Montgomery’s head when she was returning to Spokane after visiting her family for Thanksgiving.
She called McKinney as soon as she could and set up a meeting with him and another friend to talk about her vision for the group.
Power 2 the Poetry showcases the positive impact poetry can have on a community. Even the group’s mission statement is a poem:
“We infiltrate consciousness by expressing truths, shedding light onto subjects that expose legitimate issues. We are the spark that ignites that flame to stand up and be the change. We are revolutionaries with the goal to motivate the masses to participate. We believe in the words that we speak, which is why we believe in Power 2 the Poetry,” Montgomery said.
In short, the group works to “express, expose, ignite.”
McKinney was instantly on board, no questions asked.
The pair, along with Lynn’Marie White, then spent December scoping out Spokane’s poetry scene, performing and telling poets and organizers about the idea for a platform geared toward poets from underrepresented communities.
“Everybody slept on us, but it makes sense because we had no résumé whatsoever,” Montgomery said. “But I just believed in it so much, just had so much passion. Like I said, we spoke it into existence.”
Montgomery has been writing poetry for as long as she can remember but didn’t start sharing it until after she came up with the idea for Power 2 the Poetry.
McKinney became interested in poetry around the age of 12 and is known for improvising poems based on suggestions from the audience.
“Over time, I saw the meaning behind it and how it was making a difference,” he said. “That’s why I really love and appreciate it.”
Montgomery quit her job in January to dedicate her time to Power 2 the Poetry, and McKinney put in his two week’s notice shortly thereafter.
The pair, who met as students at Eastern Washington University, began speaking with schools and organizations in the community to spread the word about Power 2 the Poetry.
Montgomery was added to the Women’s March schedule after the group showed up at a planning meeting, and the group now works out of Pride Prep after meeting a Pride Prep teacher at an art show.
They are now working with schools and students of all levels, from elementary school to college.
When working with students, members of Power 2 the Poetry will share their backgrounds and poems, acting as both motivational speakers and performers, a role Montgomery likes to call “edutainer.”
Both Montgomery and McKinney hope Power 2 the Poetry inspires students to follow their dreams.
“I think too many times kids have adults in their life tell them ‘You can’t do that. You can’t be that. You need to be something more realistic,’ ” Montgomery said. “We try to teach these kids ‘Anything you want to be, you can be it. Don’t let anybody ever tell you you can’t, and don’t even say the word ‘can’t.’ You can do anything as long as you put your mind to it.”
“You don’t say ‘can’t,’ ‘if’ or ‘possibly,’ ” McKinney added. “It’s ‘We will.’ ”
“ ‘We are,’ ” Montgomery continued.
“ ‘We’re going to,’ ” McKinney said.
With that mindset, it’s no surprise Montgomery, McKinney and White have already accomplished all of the goals they set in the beginning of the year and are slowly working their way through a new list of goals.
The group is working on a book and an album that mixes poetry and music, and they are working with Eastern’s film department to make a Power 2 the Poetry documentary, which will feature footage from the poetry slam at Auntie’s.
They are also going to host a poetry-centric show on CMTV and are working on a poetry/musical hybrid Montgomery said could be the next “Hamilton.”
Montgomery, who has an MBA from Eastern, has gotten a business license for Power 2 the Poetry and hopes to get the organization classified as a nonprofit in the near future.
The group’s next event, a poetry slam encouraging, but not requiring, poems related to women and Women’s History Month, will be Tuesday at the downtown branch of the Spokane Public Library.
Montgomery and McKinney invite anyone and everyone to check out Power 2 the Poetry events, emphasizing that poetry is an outlet through which to share feelings without being judged, and that Power 2 the Poetry events provide “a safe and welcoming environment for people to be vulnerable.”
“Come to our events, come to our open mics, come to our slams and show the world what you’re capable of,” McKinney said. “Power 2 the Poetry is about expressing, exposing and igniting your inner flame. That’s where love and passion is.”
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