Roswell Roots: where poetry and black history meet


Roswell Roots: where poetry and black history meet

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Jason Getz
Adan Bean performs at a poetry slam at the Roswell Historic Cottage.

Adan Bean says he realized his calling in 2014 after performing a poem about a man trying to cope with losing his wife to a terminal illness. Bean has never been married and only imagined a husband’s pain in his performance of “Withering Heights: The Difference Between U and I.”

This story originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of Living Northside magazine.

Afterward, a tearful woman walked up to offer condolences for Bean’s loss, adding that her husband had died in a similar way. She was taken aback when Bean explained that it was not his personal experience, he says.

“[The poem] just became this emotional centerpiece for a lot of people,” says Bean, a search engine marketing analyst living in East Atlanta. “Before having that experience, I think I would have just viewed myself as an emcee rapper or musician, but once that moment occurred, I took it on, actually, like I’m a poet.”

Bean will compete for the third consecutive year in Roswell’s annual poetry slam on Feb. 11 at Roswell Historic Cottage. The event is part of Roswell Roots: A Festival of Black History and Culture. Top prize is $1,000.

Registration starts at 6 p.m. on the day of the slam and is limited to 20 participants. The contest starts at 7 p.m.

Since it began in 2005, “Slammin’ in the Suburbs” has attracted people from across the Southeast including local students at Chattahoochee High School and North Springs Charter High School.

It’s one of many Roswell Roots festivities held during Black History Month. Roswell started the four-week festival in 2001 to celebrate the role of black Americans in the city’s history. Since then, attendance has grown to about 10,000 each year. It has received the “Best Cultural Festival Award” from the Southeast Festivals and Events Association.

“People have lived here their whole lives or grown up in the houses they were born in,” says Katherine Jones, Roswell cultural services manager. “I think they just saw a need to highlight this history, and pull it out and focus on it and make sure it was remembered and shared.”

“Slammin’ in the Suburbs” is open to all ages and ethnic backgrounds, and follows the same three-round, three-minute format as the National Poetry Slam. Performance pieces can be on any topic and must be original works solely created by the poet.

Award-winning spoken word artist M. Ayodele Heath hosts the event and competed the inaugural year. His many accomplishments include being the McEver Visiting Chair in Writing at Georgia Tech, and he gives the program credence, Bean says.

At the start of the night, Heath will randomly select five judges from the audience who have no connection to the contestants. They will rate the participants on content and performance using a scale of zero to 10.

The night will be a treat for spoken word enthusiasts and people who rarely get to see open mic poetry.

“[Metro] Atlanta has a very vibrant poetry scene,” Bean says. “Pretty much every day of the week, you can find somewhere to hear spoken word.”

On the Northside, a two-hour poetry night is held on the second Friday of the month at Phoenix and Dragon Bookstore in Sandy Springs, with Michael Burke, director of sacred sound ministries at Unity North Atlanta Church in East Cobb, as host. The first hour is family-friendly, followed by more adult-themed topics.

Bean’s poetry themes sometimes delve into the mysticism of home.

“I think that home is a universal idea or identity that all of us have our own relationship with,” he says. “We know Earth because we were born here and we live here. What if …we’re just visiting this whole time; and this life we’re experiencing here is one long sojourn, and when we die, we go back to what we know is home?”

“Slammin’ in the Suburbs” Roswell Poetry Slam. Feb. 11, 972 Alpharetta St. 770-641-3705.

Poetry Open Mic Night. Phoenix and Dragon Bookstore, 5531 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs. 404-255-5207.

Bean and Heath frequently perform during Java Monkey Speaks poetry open mic on Sundays. 425 Church St., Decatur. 404-378-5002.

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