In 2004, Jill Scott released an album entitled “Beautifully Human”. On this album was a single entitled “Family Reunion”, which details all the good, the bad, the ugly and just the overall magnificent tapestry of the unconditional love of family. This song told stories of love, of struggle, of frustration and loss and annoyance and, in the end, acceptance. When it comes down to it, acceptance has a lot to do with love.
The second Thursday of each month in Inglewood, there’s this cavernous restaurant and art gallery that swings its doors open when the rest of the surrounding business strip has long gone to bed. It is many things, a celebration of art and expression, a concert, a night out, a nice dinner, a poetry reading. Mostly, the night gives the vibe of a family reunion, and the unconditional love that attends it.
The event is call S.W.A.A.M., which stands for “Spoken Word, Art and Music”. The evening is hosted by the multi-disciplined Lorenzo Frank, who acts not as an emcee or a mere host—his function is more akin to that of a beating heart within the body of a vibrant village of kindred souls.
There is little doubt that the reading itself is an event; guests appear more as if they’re attending a Broadway opening than a poetry reading. The respect the audience pays to the art of poetry here is enviable. The evening begins with a house band bumping the Ohio Players, charging the venue with a throwback Soul Train atmosphere. Lorenzo peppers the reading with some excellent artists mixed in with the open readers as well as his featured artist.
For the poet, ground rules are established quickly and firmly, most notably: no profanity. What is welcome about this is that while freedom of expression is welcomed, there are limits. This isn’t censorship, but an admonition to reciprocate the audience’s respect of the art. Refreshing.
S.W.A.A.M.’s audience, and its’ unconditional, nurturing support, is somewhat of a double-edged sword. They support poet and non-poet alike, embracing all equally. Many readers performed work which could be seen as unforgivably raw elsewhere. The majority of such work sounded like the revisiting of unresolved trauma driven by anger and passion without the temperance of perspective. Still, the audience buoys the reader on the great arms of a strong family. It’s a beautiful and generous act, though it leaves one wondering if the reader can grow as an artist if left to this environment.
That said, S.W.A.A.M. enjoys a wealth of excellence, from the way Lorenzo and Co. keep the energy flowing, to the spoken word artists and musicians lending their own magic to the night. Granted, it’s a bumpy ride, but the destination is quite nice.
3 stars: a good reading!
S.W.A.A.M. at the Jazz Gallery: 122 N. Market St., Inglewood, CA
2nd Thursdays of the month; Open mic sign-up: 7:30 pm
Showtime: 8:00 - MIdnight