A grand 'slam'
Rapturous poetry recitation wows 200 at Ware Center.
The gusher of empathy, wisdom and poetry that is Anis Mojgani stood alone at a microphone Friday night. When he spoke, he often evoked rapture, like Fred Astaire dancing, like Nadia Comaneci soaring, like Louis Armstrong playing jazz.
Mojgani, 35, is a bearded, elfin, Louisiana native who, despite a really bad hair day, had the 200 people who came out for Poetry Aloud 2013 in Lancaster leaning in trying to catch every word, every idea, every image as they bubbled up and spilled over, giving way to the next, and the next and the next, an exhilarating stampede.
Legs steady, rising at times onto toes, his arms, hands and fingers animated, Mojgani, a two-time National Individual Poetry Slam winner, from Austin, Texas, performed as he has been doing professionally for about seven years. (He says he's still a little astonished he can support himself this way.)
"Come closer. Come into this. Come closer," he said invitingly, starting the first of the 13 poems he would recite, all but two from memory.
Know that whatever God might be,
He asked the world to help him make something of worth.
He woke from dreaming,
Scraped soil from the spaces stuck somewhere inside himself.
He made you and he was happy.
You make the Lord happy.
Come into this. Come closer."
In the audience was Dana Kinsey, an English and theater teacher at Lancaster Catholic High School. She said she shows students YouTube videos of Mojgani performances because she sees their eyes light up.
"He makes all of them feel special," said Kinsey, who earlier in the evening recited two of her own compelling poems. "All my students, no matter if they're athletes, artists or students who don't do much outside of school, he has a common bond with everyone."
As he watched the spoken word poet, Ege Deme, 38, a disabled Army veteran living in Reading, didn't yet know the judges would crown him champion of the amateur poetry slam that preceded Mojgani's performance.
Although he has been writing and performing poems for about 10 years, Deme had never heard of Mojgani.
His eyes were opened.
"My mind was racing," Deme said. "He takes a poem, and he starts it one way and completely flips it and takes it to another place. When your mind is going that fast, you're taking it all in. It was phenomenal. I find a loss of words for it, actually."
In a phone interview Friday as he was traveling to Lancaster from Harrisburg International Airport, Mojgani said he entered Savannah (Ga.) College of Art and Design to become a comic book illustrator, but the burgeoning poetry slam scene sucked him in. He found himself able to express himself with tongue and lips in ways he couldn't with paint or ink.
Writing poetry helped him make sense of the world and his place in it, he said. He warmed, too, to the embrace of a nurturing community of lovers of the spoken word. And he thrilled to the high-wire act of engaging an audience with nothing more than his voice and the honesty of his lines.
"One of the things that was attractive to me was that you create something, and there's no buffer, no space, no thing between you and your audience except for the work itself," he said. "It's exciting, and it can be scary at times. It's also powerful and humbling."
Friday's audience, filling an intimate space on the third floor of the Ware Center, chuckled as Mojgani recited "Here Am I," and evoked "Happy Days" images of sock hops, high school sweethearts, meatloaf for supper and "lawns so perfect they looked like Clark Gable was kissing them."
When he recited "The Pledge," they whooped at the line, "I want the secrets of this country to stop being secret and start being mistakes we learn from."
And when he concluded the evening with a poem called "Shake the Dust," he left members of the audience uplifted, energized and maybe even wanting to create for themselves.
With his subtly lulling and unpretentious cadence, Mojgani told them this:
I burn at both ends
And every time I write, every time I open my eyes,
I am cutting out parts of myself to give to you.
So shake the dust and take me with you when you do,
For none of this has ever been for me.
All that pushes and pulls and pushes and pulls,
It pushes for you.
So grab this world by its clothespins
And shake it out again and again
And jump on top and then take it for a spin
And when you hop off, shake it again.
For this is yours.
Afterwards, 26-year-old Samantha Sweigert, a Millersville University education major and aspiring poet, said Mojgani demonstrated the beauty of spoken poetry, how it "draws everyone together, and you have that experience of being alone but connected."
Aglow with energy, Sweigert said she just wanted to give Mojgani a hug and then go home and write.n