Columbus Makes Art Presents: Scott Woods on Columbus’ Thriving Poetry Scene
Columbus’s poetry scene is growing, and after meeting local poet Scott Woods I had to know more about the scene and his work. Woods co-founded Writer’s Block Poetry, which hosts weekly readings at Kafe Kerouac and he recently released a new book of poems, Urban Contemporary History Month.
Lacey: How long have you been writing poetry? What drew you to poetry and how would you describe your style?
Scott: I’ve been writing since I was a teenager but didn’t get any good until I started hitting open mics and getting out of the artistic closet in my 20s. Back when I was starting out being black and a poet was viewed as soft, but I’ve always been creative in a variety of forms, and sometimes the story wants to or should be a poem. I’m self-educated as a writer, so I’d say my style is wildly free verse, though I do a little of everything.
Lacey: Who are some of the poets that have influenced and/or inspired you?
Scott: Initially it wasn’t poets at all but comedians and musicians and non-poet writers: George Carlin, Prince, Bill Cosby, Frank Zappa, Harlan Ellison… people who could tell compelling stories in ways that made everything stop while they were doing it. I’m essentially a storyteller whether I’m writing a poem or a song. After years of floundering I finally got to proper poet influences: Kevin Young, Stephen Dunn and Billy Collins are basically my fallback influences of the last 10 years, though I see an evolution on the horizon.
Lacey: What is the poetry scene like in Columbus?
Scott: Columbus has an amazing poetry scene but it still has a lot of work to do. You wouldn’t think it to look at it: there is poetry almost every night of the week, sometimes double- or triple-booked. There are at least 100 unique practicing poets in the city every week, and those are just the ones who go to mics and shows.
Lacey: You recently published a collection of poems titled Urban Contemporary History Month; what inspired this book?
Scott: Social media and technology have made general awareness of how non-normative Americans have been living for years, and America’s having some serious growing pains navigating that. There are so many poems in that dynamic I could write a book a week for the next 10 years.
Lacey: What has been your most memorable reading to date?
Scott: Probably my first 24-hour solo reading in 2006. I didn’t know if I could do it and I certainly wasn’t sure if I should, but by the end of it I learned so much about poetry and myself that it bordered on a religious experience. Part of that was pure exhaustion, but part of it was stepping out of my life for a solid block of time to do only one thing: read poems out loud to people. While much of it is a haze, I’ll never forget it.
Lacey: How would you describe your ideal creating space?
Scott: A library, preferably in the middle of a major city. All the stories are right there; you just have to turn them into poems, then go have a good lunch. A Mississippi juke joint is a close second (trust me), but failing that, a good used record store will do.
Lacey: What’s on your current playlist?
Scott: This week has been Prince bootlegs. It took me a few days to be able to listen to him, but I’m there now.
Lacey: You recently wrote an exquisite post about Prince and his profound influence. What is the first Prince song you remember hearing?
Scott: That’s easy: “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” It was a hit when I was a kid, so I would have heard that on the radio. I didn’t have any concept of who performed it until I found his record in my brother’s collection and put it on. That record kind of blew my mind at eight.
Lacey: If you could have dinner with anyone (dead or alive) who would it be and why?
Scott: Neil deGrasse Tyson. I’m into big picture conversations and there is no bigger picture than what the universe is doing. Also, I’m completely smitten with the idea that people perceive one of the smartest people on the planet to be a black man with an awesome tie and vest game.
Lacey: What do you think is the biggest misconception about poetry?
Scott: That it’s boring. Anybody who thinks that has never seen me perform. I know there are people out there who are, but I’m not one of them and nobody walks away from one of my shows still holding on to that baggage.
Lacey: Can you describe an open mic reading that really blew you away?
Scott: The first time I saw Marc Smith (creator of poetry slams) at the Green Mill jazz club in Chicago. He runs his open mic like a carnival barker doing a one man show and he packs it every week on a Sunday night. When I walked out of there I immediately thought, “I need to change my show.”
Lacey: Why are open mic nights important?
Scott: Because self-expression is a human necessity. People need outlets to help them process and engage the world around them that isn’t in a phone. If that means I have to hear a couple of diary entries every week amidst all of the poems, I’ll take that hit. You can’t build a city that values culture if people can’t access and play with culture. Poetry open mics let you do that without having to learn how to paint or play an instrument or dance or really anything beyond what you’re already doing with language.
Writers’ Block Poetry Nights are every Wednesday at Kafe Kerouac starting at 8 p.m., and are emceed by Scott Woods and include slam poetry readings followed by an open mic sessions.
Columbus Makes Art Presents is a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council – supporting art and advancing culture in Columbus. The column is a project of the Art Makes Columbus campaign, telling the inspiring stories of the people and organizations who create Columbus art. Each column will be written by a different local arts organization to give you an insiders look at how #artmakescbus.