Anis Mojgani’s TED Talks, book sales, YouTube hits, National Book Award nomination, and back-to-back Slam championships craft an impressive profile of the poet, but it isn’t until you read his poetry, experience his performance, or meet the friendly, gracious writer that it really strikes you: Anis Mojgani is a super cool guy – like, the super coolest. In both his writing and onstage banter, Mojgani approaches all kinds of topics – loss, love, biscuits – with grace, humility, and an effervescent sense of humor.
Don’t be surprised if the next generation of poet scholars pens critical essay after critical essay on Anis Mojgani’s imaginative metaphors and magical realism with lines like these: “This is how she makes me feel / the subway chambers of Moscow/ …If you happen to be a child / that has climbed down my steps / to yell into my body / those echoes will bounce their way / across those vaulted underground ceilings/ this happens all the time / my dark tunnels are filled with these sounds,” from “This is How She Makes Me Feel,” a.k.a. the dreamiest love poem ever.
Before he reached this point in his career, Anis was a slam poet, meaning he performed original poems that were then judged by a democratically selected group of people, usually audience members. Anis sat down with me to share a bit about his start on the Slam scene.
“I first read about (Slam) before going off to college and I thought that it was really, really, fascinating that there was this thing that, A. allowed folks to share their innermost thoughts and emotions and ideas, and that it was open to whomever, that anyone was allowed to participate, that they didn’t have to have this credential or done this ‘X’ amount of times.”
The Breaking Ground Poets – youth poets out of Tunkhannock, coached by local teacher Katie Watkins Wisnosky – have been practicing spoken word for the past year with their own slams, working with visiting poets and mentors to prepare to compete at HBO’s “Brave New Voices” youth slam and conference. The Tunkhannock teens were joined in Chicago by teams from several U.S. and international cities.
Mojgani recognizes the genre-transcending universality of slam poetry, explaining, “It’s like, ‘Hey, I have something to say and I have the courage to step forward and do this,’ and what was even more fascinating to me was that it was this thing that reminded people, maybe for the first time, that poetry was not something separate from humanity and humans.
“Since poetry comes from the human experience, you get to participate in it, and you get to participate by either writing it or sharing it or watching it and reading it and listening to it, and your opinion counts. You get to say, ‘Nothing about that poem moved me;’ you get to say, ‘You know what? That poem very much affected the way that I walk through the world;’ and I thought that was a really powerful thing.”
On Sunday, Aug. 25, the Austin, Texas poet wooed the crowd at TwentyFiveEight Studios in Scranton with audience favorites – starting with his welcoming opener “Come Closer” and ending with sigh-inducing “Shake the Dust” – and peppered his set with two very recent poems from National Poetry Month’s 30 Poems in 30 Days exercise. Mojgani stayed after the show for a meet-and-greet and book signing.
Breaking Ground Poets Keri Klinges and Angelo Maruzelli opened for Mojgani, performing both individual poems and a moving group piece with enthusiasm, passion, and animated delivery. Coach Katie Watkins Wisnosky has mentored youth poets for two years and, in a very short time, has shifted the poetry community, supporting and nurturing local talent – from youth slams and bringing in nationally recognized authors like Andrea Gibson and Lauren Zuniga.
Many of these poets have met with students for a workshop or a Q&A before the BGP fundraising performances. Poet Buddy Wakefield, another heart-shaking wordmaster from the Write Bloody Publishing family, will grace the stage of the Vintage Theater on October 19. Tickets will be available online.