Poetry titans bring a new Foundation to Hawai’i's slam scene

Jess Kroll
Tui Scanlan

Tui Scanlan

Despite its natural isolation, Honolulu has emerged as a haven for slam poets and slam enthusiasts alike.

The islands' unique position in both geography and history adds a heavy sociopolitical fold to its poetry, in addition to the usual stalwarts of love, death, sex and sarcasm.

In the past 10 years, Hawai'i poets have helped to bring the spotlight over from across the Pacific. First Thursdays at Hawaiian Hut is recognized as the world's largest monthly poetry event. It's also been the training grounds for much of Hawai'i's up-and-coming poets, like the kids from Youth Speaks Hawai'i who were recently crowned the 2008 Brave New Voices international slam poetry champions while the subject of an upcoming documentary for HBO.

Yet while larger areas like San Francisco and New York City, and even smaller locales like Denver and Providence, carry as many as three weekly events, Honolulu's list of venues has decreased over the last year, leaving poets and poetry fans with fewer ways to receive their fix.

The summer brought the close of Re:Verses, Hawai'i's second-longest running regular poetry event. However, beginning this week, two local poetry titans, Darron Cambra and Tui Scanlan, hope to fill the void with Unscene Foundation at Indigo.

Cambra, who will be co-hosting the event with Scanlan, says putting Unscene Foundation together wasn't difficult. "The arts community is an extended family," he explains, "so a bunch of people have similar ideas and things come together."

As a two-time member of Team Hawai'i at the National Poetry Slam, Cambra has been a local poetry standard-bearer. When he isn't on stage doing his thing, Cambra works as the Arts and Education Director for Youth Speaks Hawai'i and is the author of True Confessions of a Compulsive Liar. Keep an eye out for an upcoming CD of the same name.

Scanlan burst onto the Hawai'i poetry scene last year when he qualified to compete in the nationals in his first year of competition. He has since worked as a mentor for Youth Speaks and released a poetry CD titled Patient Zero.

Darron Cambra

Darron Cambra

"We're hoping to give another stage for poets who are developing and performing," Cambra says. "Something to develop the scene in Hawai'i."

Planned as an on-going event for every second Wednesday, Unscene Foundation promises an impressive mix of poetry and music, complete with a dance hall in a separate room. This week's inaugural event brings music from a trio of reggae-infused turntablists: DJ Oakason of Los Angeles, DK Hawaiian Lion of KTUH, and 45Revolver of Pacific Sounds Outernational.

The night of "tears, laughter, and tall mic stands" begins Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Indigo. Those wishing to compete may do so for prizes—$100 first place, $50 gift certificate to Indigo for second place. Those wishing not to compete may also do so for fun and appreciation.

Unscene Foundation inaugural event; Indigo Green Room, 1121 Nu'uanu Ave.; Wednesday, 12/10; 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.; all ages from 7 p.m. till 9 p.m.; 537-4164.

Youth Speaks Hawai'i writing workshop; every Wednesday from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Art at Marks Garage, 1159 Nu'uanu Ave.; the workshops follow the Board of Education School Calandar; for more information, e-mail [email protected] or call (808) 387-9664.