Gigi Dovonou doesn’t just read his poetry, he sings it.
“I like to address my poem as a speech so people can hear my voice from the stage, so it looks like I’m on top of the world and talking to the world,” he said.
Dovonou performed at a poetry slam on April 18, where a dozen Street Sense Media artists and vendors shared their writing with a small crowd gathered in the auditorium at Planet Word. Performers shared over 30 pieces, exploring themes of love, loss and hope.
While Street Sense offers several artistic workshops, poetry is uniquely important, Bonnie Naradzay, who runs the poetry workshop, said at the event. “We talk about poetry as bread and as life,” she said.
Frederic John, introducing his poem inspired by his neighbors in his senior apartment building, seemed to agree. “I don’t feel very senior, I’m still making poetry,” he said.
The poetry vendors performed was largely written at Street Sense’s hour-long artistic workshops, including poetry every Monday and writer’s group on Wednesdays. This poetry is featured in the newspaper each week, but the poetry slam was the first time since 2021 writers have had the opportunity to perform live.
And the artists took advantage of having an audience. Nikila Smith, whose collection explored the dissolution of a relationship, read to someone on stage, pretending to be the poem’s subject. Rochelle Walker sang her work, including a prayer she wrote during the height of the pandemic which she originally performed on Capitol Hill. Providing a moment of levity, Queenie Featherstone introduced her piece against smoking cigarettes with a sign asking the audience not to smoke. Redbook Mango, who said she has wanted to be a rapper since she was 10, rapped her first two pieces.
Dovonou’s poem was one of the more overtly political, as he shared his experience moving to D.C., sleeping outside and watching the city remove his tent. Angie Whitehurst and Robert Warren touched on similar ideas, questioning how technology can lead to solutions to homelessness, and how communities should define justice.
Other poems were deeply personal, such as Jet Flegette’s rumination on how to find passion again after a loss, and Carlos Carolina’s set, dedicated to the dreams he has for his children. Jackie Turner read Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman,” honoring the poet’s work.
But it was Chon Gotti’s words that best summarized the show; that journalism, and poetry “can be a force for good/a way to build community/to shine a light on the world/and bring about unity.”