Charleston’s Free Verse Festival Debuts in October

Marcus Amaker

By Erica Veal

Charleston’s first Poet Laureate, Marcus Amaker, is passionate about promoting poetry and a value for writing, especially in schools and among black and brown youth. Yet, he said, his newfound status didn’t come with a blueprint or money. Taking his lead from a similar event in Miami, Florida, he created the Free Verse Festival.

Benjamin Starr, member of the Very Hypnotic Soul Band

Free Verse, Charleston’s first poetry festival, debuts in October 2017. Its mission is to “provide eclectic poetry events and workshops at multiple venues” throughout the city. Amaker and local artists will work closely with the Charleston County School District to promote “the power of the written word” among area students.

Amaker says we can expect Charleston and West Ashley to be overrun with poetry (written by children) on billboards, sidewalks, bikes, t-shirts and more. Although he loves the idea of displaying poetry as public art, he’s even more excited about the variety of writing workshops for students, including youth poetry which meets weekly, Saturdays at 1pm at the Dart Library. There will also be an open mic, a poetry slam, poetry and play workshops for youth and pizza and poetry night for families.

Kimberly Simms

Free Verse is partnering with the MOJA Arts Festival on a variety of events including Poetic Jazz Society with Quentin Baxter at Dock Street Theatre and Rainbow Rowed at Pure Theatre, which will combine poetry and hip hop to discuss “how Charleston is marketed on the global stage versus how it’s viewed” by people who live here. Rainbow Rowed will be presented by the Very Hypnotic Soul Band and Charleston Sticks Together. Performance poet and Columbia native Tammaka Staley will host a MOJA poetry reading October 4 at City Gallery at Waterfront Park. There will be a discussion of Hand in Hand: Poets Respond to Race at the City Gallery and a variety of other interesting events like Cognac and Roses: A Toast to Edgar Allen Poe, a Halloween Open Mic and much more.

Tammaka Staley

Many events will be free and open to public. Donations to the festival can be made here.

For more information about proceedings and how to purchase tickets, visit

(left to right) Al Black and Len Lawson

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