Flypoet: A Cure for the Lost Souls of LA

By Brian Sonia-Wallace

“We drive and we drive and we drive

and we get to the part of town where it seems the American Dream is still alive.”

– Taalam Acey, from his poem “Brotherly Love”

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Flypoet founder John Hensley works the crowd at last year’s Flypoet Under the Stars at the Ford. (Photo by Gennia Cui)

Taalam’s words rang in my ears long after I first heard them. As a poet myself, I drove and drove and drove until I reached Flypoet‘s spoken word show at The Savoy in Inglewood – a monthly haven for us wordsmiths. Heck, these lines go beyond the poet community and resonate on a quintessentially LA level: what is LA if not driving and dreams?

When the Ford turned me on to Flypoet, I was excited to learn about a poetry hot spot that I hadn’t yet discovered. The show at The Savoy gave me a taste of what to expect at the annual Flypoet Summer Classic, part of Ford on the Road. I enlisted a friend of mine on the LA slam team at Da Poetry Lounge and we were on our way!

Audiences reactions to last year's Flypoet Summer Classic show. (Photo by Gennia Cui)
Audiences reactions to last year’s Flypoet Summer Classic show. (Photo by Gennia Cui)

Flypoet makes it very clear that this is not a coffee-house open mic. While most poetry venues in the city embrace their grassroots identity with “come as you are” open mics featuring anyone and everyone, Flypoet curates the experience of spoken word as a show with the same prestige as a night at the ballet or the opera. The acts feature seasoned performers; the show is technically flawless, with a smooth run and a steady flow of cocktails. The VIP tables are highly visible – this is a place to see and be seen.

But Flypoet is also very clearly a community – between acts, Hensley introduced first timers to Flypoet traditions like those in the audience who had come for their birthdays. The table seating allows groups to sit together – almost more like a supper club than a traditional poetry night.

After the show, I had a chance to catch up with Taalam Acey, an accomplished spoken word vet who will also be a headliner at next month’s Summer Classic. Acey has been a standing feature of Flypoet.

“The show has evolved over the last 15 years to be a cure for the lost souls of LA,” Acey said.

Taalam Acey, the
Taalam Acey, the “Godfather of spoken word,” is among the headliners for September’s Flypoet Summer Classic.

We then bonded over the idea of poems as “little spells,” works rooted not in the poet’s whim, but in what the audience needs to hear. The example Acey gives is a brokenhearted love poem – it’s not just about the poet sharing an experience, but also about saying the right words to help people deal with their own stories and start to heal.

This year has brought some big changes for the poet. Taalam recently moved back to LA full time and his birthday happens to coincide with the Summer Classic, an event he sees as a new beginning of sorts.

“It’s my remarkable 45th,” he says. “I’ve learned from my mistakes and now I’m back in LA.”

Acey describes himself as a social/political poet – that’s political with a small “p” rather than a large one – meaning that he’s concerned with the well being of people and his community and not government politics. In fact, the poets I saw perform at the show all fit within this designation, telling personal stories that hint at broader ripples.

Through these vital, personal stories, Flypoet is helping keep poetry alive in a cool atmosphere accessible to casual listeners and poetry aficionados alike. If you’ve ever questioned poetry’s relevance in the modern day, you owe it to yourself to see these spoken word artists do their thing!

Stay tuned for a follow-up article with Flypoet mastermind John Hensley on poetry, race, community and this year’s Summer Classic!

Flypoet Summer Classic takes place Saturday September 5 
at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. Just added to the bill: Grammy Award-winner Lalah Hathaway! Tickets are $40 general admission/$60 VIP/$100 Ultra Preferred VIP. Doors open at 5 p.m. and the Preshow Party starts at 6 p.m.