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Souls dont starve here

At a weekly spoken word and music event, everyone can have their say

Urban lyrics detonate across soothing beats

People stomp their hands and clap their feet

No, I do not mean to say that the other way around,

Because with urban spoken word, everything is turned upside down.

What was expected

Is rejected

And lives are affected.

Ñ from 'Soul Food'

by Rochell D. Hart

Bookie's lies deep in the heart of North Portland. It sits at the corner where North Albina Avenue intersects North Lombard Street. The No. 4

Fessenden bus stops in front of Bookie's, but you'll have to walk around to the parking lot on the side to enter. The front door is often locked.

Every Thursday night, 'Soul Food,' a spoken word and music event hosted by poet and playwright Alan Wone, is held here. Inside, two bouncers stand at the door to check IDs and collect the $5 cover charge.

Bookie's has one big room with black and white checkered floor and a bar in the middle. A small stage toward the far end of the room is lit by a spinning disco ball and white Christmas lights. It's a mellow, relaxed atmosphere, and people sit at tables with a drink in hand, waiting for the poetry and music to start.

'Soul Food' draws about 70 to 90 people, and it gets warmed up about 10 p.m. Ever since 'Luv Jones' was canceled at Ohm, people come to Bookie's to recite their spoken word monologues.

Others come just to get an earful of unscripted perspective from just about anyone who wants to exercise their First Amendment rights. The artists are backed by the Black Notes, a three-piece band.

Wone, the master of ceremonies, begins by pointing out that it's African-American history month. The three black males in the spotlight this week, he asks? Man-child Michael Jackson, high school hoop star LeBron James and porn man R. Kelly. The crowd winces, then laughs.

The rules at 'Soul Food' are easy to figure out: Everyone has a story, and every story is sacred. No one is likely to get booed off stage, but some will be ignored.

A pretty young black woman with a yellow flower in her hair gets up to read. She never once looks up from her journal, and her voice never rises above a soft whisper. The crowd doesn't pay her much mind, or vice versa. A smattering of polite applause follows her offstage.

Next up is a young white woman who struggles through a rambling piece about social injustice. She loses her place a few times, but by the poem's end she rounds up all of the usual suspects: the media, the U.S. government, George W., the system.

Then a young man named Iggy takes the stage. He seems disoriented and loses his train of thought. He has nothing prepared Ñ this is live, after all Ñ but says that he's a Crip from Louisiana and that he's been shot three times. He holds his jacket back and mumbles, 'I'm serious. Serious as a heart attack.' Turning to the band, he asks, 'Ya know what I'm sayin'?' It's plain sad. The crowd tries to follow the thread of his bewildering monologue and gives up. 'I hope you all can feel me,' he says before he gives up, too.

Wone returns to the stage and releases the tension once again. 'Everybody's got a story, and, well, that one's his,' he says.

Next, a young man from the United Arab Emirates gets up on stage to sing 'Happy Birthday' to a woman in the audience. When you think it's finally over, he starts in again. And again. Then he wails and keens a bit in Arabic. Eventually, some men in the back start to howl like hound dogs to let him know he's hurting our ears. People laugh and call to 'get the hook.'

Wone takes the mike and says, 'Well, that was the longest 'Happy Birthday' I have ever heard Ñ the Al-Qaida Remix version right there. '

Rochell D. Hart takes the stage next. She brings what Wone calls her 'hard-edged consciousness' to the room. She starts with a few key dates to let us know she's done her homework.

'Lucy Terry was the first published black writer: 1855. Phyllis Wheatley, the first published black female poet: 1767.'

Hart's voice is strong, direct and righteous. She's already performed twice today in honor of Black History Month (once at the Nike campus, once at Portland Community College). She plugs her CD, 'P.I.M.P.' (which stands for 'Poetic Intellectual Making Progress'), and then performs three poems: 'Black Magic,' 'Reborn Black Woman' and 'The Nigger Experience.'

These are a few of the voices coming to you live any given Thursday at Bookie's.

Contact Michaela Bancud at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .