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Spoken Word Stage Adds New Wrinkle To Fourth Street Fest

Will the crowd at the Fourth Street Festival be interested in slowing down, pulling up a chair and taking a listen to the performers at the Spoken Word Stage?

Microphone with lights in background

Photo: dbwalker (Flickr)

20 performers will be taking the stage throughout the Fourth Street Festival as part of the Spoken Word Stage.

Event Information

Spoken Word Stage

20 different performers will take the stage throughout the festival. Includes poetry, storytelling, radio drama, comedy, street theater and Poetry On Demand.

Dunn and 4th Streets

Saturday, September 3 11:00am-6:00pm; Sunday, September 4 11:00am-5:00pm


The Writers Guild At Bloomington

Fourth Street Festival

Schedule Of Performers

In addition to a live music stage, a kid zone, community tables and booth after booth of artists displaying their work, the Fourth Street Festival of the Arts & Crafts will have a new component for its 35th year: the Spoken Word Stage.

Will the crowd will be interested in slowing down, pulling up a chair and taking a listen?

The Power Of The Performance

Matthew Jackson seems to think so.

While he agrees that spoken word probably garners an eye roll from the general public, he stands by the power of a good performance. “A spoken word artist has this ability… to change somebody’s mind and think, ‘I went to a poetry reading, and that was rock ‘n’ roll.’”

Jackson can’t pick just one label for himself. He is a spoken word artist, poet, professional hair designer, dog owner, and a vegetarian who sometimes craves steak.

Tony Brewer‘s label is simple: executive producer of the Spoken Word Stage. He thoughtfully planned the weekend’s events to not overwhelm those new to spoken word with “one continuous voice droning for 9 hours.” The two-day line-up will include storytellers, poets, street theater, radio drama and Poetry On Demand.

Emotional Roller Coaster

When asked what traits all great spoken word artists have in common, Brewer referenced three rules for delivering comedy: clarity, surety and speed. That, and great performers always knows their material cold.

“Even if it’s something they’ve never read in front of somebody before, they already know how it’s going to go down.”

For Jackson, great spoken word performers make you laugh and cry, they make you feel uncomfortable, and they even freak you out. “You leave there and maybe you’ve learned a little more about yourself, or maybe you run and hug a grandparent. However it touches you, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Ode To My Grandfather

Matthew Jackson, spoken word artist

Photo: Annie Corrigan/WFIU

In addition to his work as a poet and spoken word performer, Matthew Jackson is professional a hair designer, a dog owner and a vegetarian who sometimes craves steak.

Even though Charles Alvin was a man of few words, Jackson is sure he would have loved the poem he wrote in his honor. It’s based on actual experiences the two had together, one of the most memorable coming when Alvin was on his deathbed.

When he was 19 years old, Jackson visited his grandfather Alvin in the hospital. “Everyone would say, ‘Be careful when you go into the room, because he’s listening.’ I really didn’t know if I believed it.” To test out his grandfather’s awareness, he whispered a story in his ear that only the two of them knew: the one about the lady in the pizzeria.

“When I whispered that story to him, his chest literally started heaving and his mouth, which was already open, gaped even further,” he says. “People said, ‘What did you do to him?’ I said, ‘I told him a joke.’ It was a pretty amazing moment.”

“Charles Alvin” by Matthew D. Jackson

Charles Alvin—
you are fabled.

Checker champ—
they say you never lost, never failed to be kinged.

Coal miner—
alone at night, you’d crawl into the earth, setting off dynamite.

they say you could plow all 141 acres
by tilling the soil with your bare hands
while pulling all 8 of your children
riding on the back of a broke-down tractor.

but that wasn’t the only family you ever pulled

Rabbit slayer—
bludgeoner of bunnies—
you conserved shotgun shells by inventing whack-a-rabbit
on some flood stranded hares
to feed your mother & siblings
while your father drank.

I have heard there is still no Easter on that river’s island

Arc welder—
with pressure & heat, you fused together tanks
joint by joint, for Uncle Sam during
The Great War.

& the Nation with her Allies gave you thanks

Heart attack—stroke
—I never knew your health
& in the winter of my asthma,
I stayed with you
shaded on the hillside
perched above the old farm.

We watched Hee Haw
& sliced apples with your pocket knife.
We read the Book of Jeremiah
& a National Enquirer—
I vividly recall the article about the lady in a pizzeria,
she ate twenty-one pizzas
then exploded mozzarella to the ceiling.
That earned the largest laugh from you
I’d ever seen.

we both split our sides

In that winter
we faced frosty air as we worked together
for the first & only time.
I was wheezy; you were off balance
with your Fred G. Sanford waddle
putting boards down on that deck—
& whenever I bent a nail,
you told me it meant
my pecker was still growing.

Well Grandpa, I still bend nails

in the final moments
with your eyes closed, occasional moan
& gentle breath
the whole family gathered around
—you were the weld puddle
that coalesced us.

I whispered the pizza-lady story in your ear
& in your translucent state
you stretched a toothless smile
that went for a country mile
to make space for the heaviest expiration.

you smiled through death

Charles Alvin—
you are fabled.

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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