Mayhem Poets spread word with mash-up of spoken word, stand-up comedy, hip-hop, theater
An evening with The Mayhem Poets has been described as “The Simpsons meets Malcolm X at a Notorious B.I.G. concert” and “a rap show meets off-Broadway meets underground theater.”
Yet, while “their spoken-word performances derive from hip-hop, their material wouldn’t make your grandmother blush, and there’s nothing gangsta about their pose,” says The New York Times. “(Their message is to write, not fight.)”
In fact, The Mayhem Poets, three former Rutgers classmates, are on a peaceful but full-on quest to “emancipate and empower the light within … and illuminate forever,” says ensemble member Mikumari Caiyhe. They will shed some light at East Tennessee State University on Tuesday, Feb. 6, at 7:30 p.m. in Culp Auditorium.
The Mayhem Poets seek to make poetry relevant to contemporary daily lives and events and encourage others to communicate creatively. Their subjects cover the gamut – self-expression, environment, food fights, diversity, stereotypes, bullying and war, as well as pop culture icons such as Oprah and the Kardashians. All topics are presented in “a rapid-fire rap often enhanced by a violin or beat box or both,” says the Billings Gazette.
While in college at Rutgers University, Raven, along with an earlier Mayhem Poet Kyle Sutton, actually started a weekly open mic event they called Verbal Mayhem – that continues at the school to this day as the Verbal Mayhem Poetry Collective.
When Raven, Granger, (who came to the open mic) and Sutton graduated, they decided to take poetry on the road, deriving their name from the 1999 Fight Club film. “Their only weapon is words, specifically the snappy, streetwise art known as slam poetry,” writes a New York Times reviewer. “And they deploy it brilliantly.”
Nowadays, The Mayhem Poets perform about 200 shows a year, taking summers to create and keep their material fresh. “Poetry is a viable profession,” Raven tells the Gazette. “We’re not raising kids yet, but we’re making enough to pay rent in New York City.”
The mission to inspire more slam poets blossomed further when in 2006, the trio won first place and a $100,000 grant in the Microsoft Idea Wins Challenge to establish poetry cafés. They opened Slam Chops, an open mic venue in New York’s Bowery district, but New York school system budget cuts took a toll on the café/teaching tool’s longevity.
So that novices and enthusiasts can locate verbal mayhem anywhere they travel on the continent, Granger even created a phone app called Slamfind that is a directory to poetry slams all over North America.
For more information on the Verbal Mayhem Poetry Collective, visit @verbalmayhem #verbalmayhem. For information on The Mayhem Poets, visit www.mayhempoets.com.
For tickets for this performance or more information on Mary B. Martin School of the Arts, visit www.etsu.edu/martin, @artsatetsu or call 423-439-8587. This performance may include adult language.