When it comes to spoken word artistry in Oklahoma City, there are levels to this. There are the local legends – The Candace Ligers, the Obbie Wests, The Kendal S Turners, the Telesa Hineses, the Grace Franklins and the James Coopers. These are poets who are known and respected for their craft by virtually everyone on the local spoken word circuit, and by many well beyond the region. Many, including Turner and Hines, have moved on to larger markets. Others, like Liger and West, have won poetry slams near and far, and garnered national acclaim for their poetic prowess. Liger and Franklin have utilized their art as a springboard into activism and social change as the public voices of OKC Artists for Justice, proving that spoken words, combined with action, are indeed powerful forces beyond the stage from which these larger than life personas first launched into the stratosphere. There are a select few other names that belong on this list (your Crystal Abercrombies and such), but you get the picture.
Then there’s everyone else.
For a long time, the problem with open mic events in OKC was that if you were an “everyone else,” it was intimidating to even think of standing on the same stage as the aforementioned luminaries who, despite their acclaim and skill, still blessed local open mics with humility and grace, performing as if nobody knew their names. Others of us who still donned proverbial training wheels, however, dared not follow these giants, nor precede them for that matter, not wanting to endure the potential embarrassment of stumbling over lines and whipping out notebooks and cell phones to read rudimentary poems with elementary rhyme schemes, whereas the legends would artfully recite complex multifaceted works of art while barely blinking, let alone seeming to have to think about what to say next. This created a dilemma. Where could we poetry mortals go to perfect our craft? How could we shine anywhere else besides in the car, the shower, or the bathroom mirror? Practice makes perfect, but where can we practice that resembles the platform to which we ultimately aspire?
Enter Dope Poetry, a new weekly open mic spoken word event held at Ice Event Center and Grill on OKC’s east side, hosted by J. Wiggins and Anthony Crawford. Wiggins, affectionately known by many as “J. Wigg,” often served as the host of 3XDope, a spoken word extravaganza featuring many of the poetic giants mentioned previously, as well as national recording artists and celebrities, also held at Ice. Despite his humble, personable manner, make no mistake about it, J. Wigg is a local celebrity in his own right. His warmth, humor and encouraging style give Dope Poetry an approachable feel, while his clout, gravitas and 3XDope hosting experience give the event a sense of significance and prestige. Add in the smooth, mild mannered, sociable Crawford, a local educator who is also an exceptional spoken word artist himself, and Dope Poetry has the makings of a highly successful spoken word platform. The “Dope” moniker gives the same feeling of dope-ness, minus the intimidating “3X,” which originally stood for the three poets featured in the inaugural event, Candace Liger, Obbie West, and James Cooper. Though the 3XDope lineup varied over time, and was sometimes really 4, or 5, they were all still ultra-dope. We know we’re not them. But we’re still pretty damn dope, son. Dope Poetry has the feel of a premier spoken word gathering, with a twist:
At Dope Poetry, held every Wednesday at Ice, poets of all experience and ability levels are not only welcomed, but free to be their authentic selves with absolutely no fear of judgment or failure. Notebooks and cellphones are commonplace on stage. Though not everyone read their poems or referred to their notes, those who did – and there were many – were not looked upon in the slightest as though they were “cheating” or somehow lesser artists than anyone who didn’t. I’ve been in environments where, although looking at one’s poem was allowed while performing, it was a highly frowned upon practice. At Dope Poetry, it is a given and embraced acknowledgment that a poet’s art is evolving, and that the poet himself or herself is an evolving work of art as well. Dope Poetry is a chemistry lab, a sandbox, a sketch pad. Dope Poetry is about a dozen times dope. Minus the fanfare. And the pressure. 3XDope often included an open mic element as well. But man, if you dared approach that mic, open or not, you better had brought that shit. For real. At Dope Poetry, not so much, and we still love you, whether you bring it a lot, or just a little bit, or barely bring anything. One gentleman even shared a testimony, unrehearsed, about how his life was spared. It too was dope.
Certainly not every artist who mounted the stage at Dope Poetry was a novice. Far from it. Gifted local spoken word artist Wood, whose calling card is “my name is Wood, and writing is my art,” can very easily hold his own among the legends I’ve already named, and has done so repeatedly, earning not only their respect but quite arguably a seat alongside them at their proverbial table, yet he got on stage at Dope Poetry and did his thing just like everyone else. His stoic manner while in the audience revealed that despite his mastery of his craft, Wood is still very much a student of his environment, taking in every word spoken with laser-like focus and unshakable intensity. Joelisha Goggins, another veteran spoken word artist despite her relatively youthful age, is also an established author and chief executive of her own publishing company, Bennie Publications. Not only did she perform, and do so exceptionally well, but she also brought along a cadre of her published poets who themselves masterfully blessed the mic. Ultra-talented rappers Greg Howell, also known as “Crunch Time” and Glen Whitaker, who goes by “Glenjammin” on stage, both double as spoken word artists with equally impressive skill as that which they display when rhyming over beats.
Still, these polished vets shared the stage with others who had rarely or never stood on any stage anywhere before, and all were received with the same warmth and love. J. Wigg, also an expert professional photographer known for making his subjects comfortable in front of his lens, made each poet just as comfortable standing in front of the audience at Ice. He did so by working the audience as much as he hyped the performers, engaging the modest crowd with his locally famous charm and wit, and not even allowing us to stop applauding until after each poet reached the mic. Crawford not only hosted, along with Wiggins, but treated us to a couple of extremely captivating and sometimes amusingly risqué spoken word pieces of his own.
I even got on stage myself, performing a three year old poem, and a recently written monologue from a stage play I was in a short time ago. It was the first time I had been on stage to perform poetry since a chance on-the-spot challenge at Ice on a Sunday back in the summer (more about Ice’s Sunday evening open mic event soon.) Prior to that I hadn’t regularly done poetry in about three years, dating back to The Vine Open Mic Poetry Night at Urban Roots. Still, when I arrived at Dope Poetry prepared to do a single monologue, J. Wigg requested that I do my famous (to some) ode to the plus-sized ladies, and of course I obliged. When Wigg asks you to perform “Big Beautiful Black Woman – BBBW,” you just do it. My son and new Culturocity Associate Music Editor, Austin Scott, was with me. It was his first time at Ice, and it was definitely dope. His presence did not add to my embarrassment at all. Nope.
After the very last poet did his thing, our hosts gave the benediction, and we all hung around and watched the remainder of the Thunder’s overtime win against the Wizards together as one big happy poetry family. Austin and I gravitated toward a conversation with Crunch Time (whose poem “Witcha Broke Ass” was a hit), Glenjammin and J. Wigg, as we all converged upon 3XDope legend James Cooper, whom I previously mentioned among the elite spoken word artists in the area, and one of the original 3 X’s. Many legends have moved on, but at least one remains. Coop, as we call him, did not perform on this night. He, along with Ice proprietor and event promoter Marc Flemon, had been busy manning other stations essential to the operation of the venue, giving us less seasoned poetry practitioners our moment to shine. Now, as the evening came to a close, Coop the wordsmith sat in our midst and shared some jewels of knowledge regarding social media strategies, hip hop, and life in general. He shared music knowledge with my son, who respectfully listened and occasionally carefully interjected, deferring to the wiser elder statesman while still trying to impress him and earn his respect. We all huddled around the gentle giant intently, as we joked about the prestige of getting a “Sega” comment from Coop on Facebook (a coveted and hard-earned honor), and Coop deadpanned about how J. Wigg can get several hundred likes from sharing a pic of a piece of broccoli, while a lesser man might get a dozen, maybe, for pouring out his whole heart and soul. The jovial communal environment was poetry at its finest, the kind of poetry that transcends the mic and enriches the souls of men and women.
The whole night was pure poetry, from start to finish. In a word, it was Dope. Next week we’re going to do it all again. We hope to see you there. If you dream of performing spoken word art, or if you simply enjoy being around good people, Dope Poetry at Ice is the place to be.
Dope Poetry convenes every Wednesday at 7pm (promptly) at Ice Event Center and Grill, 1148 NE 36th St, in Oklahoma City.