Staff members take charge in poetry leadership

Some may think poetry is an ancient art. However, it remains through the efforts of dedicated poets.

Tammy Rhodes, University Success Center executive assistant, and Daishu McGriff, UNA Dining marketing manager, have both shown their love for poetry by hosting spoken word events in the past, which they are trying to bring back in the future.

Rhodes hosted the Florence Poetry Slam, a monthly event at Rivertown Coffee, starting in 2007 after founder J.T. Bullock, alumnus and professional poet, became busy with his nursing course work.

The event consisted of poets performing their works and the slam itself, which involved audience members drawing words out of a hat that the poets would have to create poems from in 30 seconds.

Rhodes said several UNA students participated, and the event reached out to poets nationwide to perform.

“We really created a major poetry scene in our little spot here that Florence was known for,” she said.

Rhodes said her love of poetry comes from her mom teaching her spoken word from a young age.

“It’s always been a part of me,” she said. “I think it always will be. It’s always been my creative outlet.”

She said after becoming busy with her senior year and career search, she had to stop hosting the event around a year after it had begun.

However, Rhodes said the slam is returning soon, with a new brand, name and “vibe.” Poetry workshops are also in the works.

An announcement of details for the slam’s return will take place on social media in December.

As for McGriff, her involvement in poetry events took off in 2012 with the start of the annual poetry event Blackout.

She continued to participate in it through 2015 (and hosting it twice) at Auburn University at Montgomery. The theme was “coming out of darkness,” with a spotlight shining down on a microphone on a dark stage.

“The notion is to step into the light and just share your art,” she said.

The event originated from faith-based group Phase Three, which AUM knew from its singing and poetry performances on campus.

Blackout started in a residence hall sitting area with around 10 to 15 attendants. The next year, attendance began to grow.

McGriff said the 2015 Blackout had the largest attendance yet, with around 250 to 300 people.

Blackout stopped after McGriff and other Phase Three members graduated. However, McGriff said she hopes the event will return to Montgomery next year.

She said she first performed poetry in college, finding a way to express her creative writing.

“It’s a release that sometimes people don’t know about,” she said. “It really helps me get thoughts out of my head and be creative while I’m doing it.”

McGriff said after performing in Zeta Phi Beta’s spoken word event at UNA, her first poetry event since moving to Florence, she hopes to bring her own event to campus with Rhodes’ help.

“I think, with Tammy and I, we both were saying that we came out of retirement (at the event),” she said.

Poetry opens a door into a poet’s heart through expression, said Assistant Professor of Sociology Andrea Hunt.

“When someone performs a piece of their work, they are empowered, and in doing so, they let the audience into their life and heart,” she said. “This kind of trust helps build bridges between people and gives people an outlet to express themselves.”

She said she will support Rhode’s and McGriff’s future events.

“Their love of poetry is contagious, and they are eager to mentor writers and give people a voice who may otherwise feel marginalized in our community,” she said