Don’t dare call it a reading. A three-day poetry and performance festival, In the Beginning Was the Word, featuring a cast of prize-winning poets and performers selected by curator Le Van D. Hawkins, is scheduled for Thursday through Saturday, April 6th to 8th, at Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. Admission is $10 for the Thursday night event, $15 each for the remaining shows, or $40 for a three-day festival pass.

In the Beginning Was the Word starts out with “Represent,” a night of slam poetry competing for a solo show at Highways, at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, April 6th.

Night two will feature “Common Ground,” a two-woman poetry show by Highways 2005 slam poet champion Mollie Angelheart with Miss Natalie, starting at 8:30 p.m. Friday, April 7th.

“Testifyin’,” a night of performances by poets Kamau Daaood, Bridget Gray, Robert Carroll, Kim Dark, Maria Elena Fernandez, George McDonald and Ratpack Slim, starts out the third and final night of festivities at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, April 8th. A party will follow, headed up by “Love and Sex,” an erotic and love poetry performance hosted by Pat Payne, winner of the Taos Heavyweight Championship of Poetry contest, featuring performance poets Shihan, Bridget Gray, LeVan D. Hawkins, Peter J. Harris, Rachel Kann, Reina Prado and Jaha Zainabu, at midnight. Oysters and chocolates, which some claim have aphrodisiac qualities, will be served, says Hawkins.

Hawkins says that although he himself has been known to write about break-ups and compose the occasional bitter love poem, he asked the poets to focus on the positive aspects or “joys of sex and love” for Saturday night’s show.

Highways encourages audience members to “bring a lover, look for a lover, reminisce about a great lover or be inspired to find one” at the event.

Singer Shirlavision will perform at the party between the two Saturday night perform-ances, which Hawkins describes as a mixture of soul, R&B and folk musical styles.

Hawkins says his intent was to create a lineup of diverse artists to represent the broad spectrum of styles of performance poetry. Highlights of the festival include performances by Kamau Daaood, cofounder and artistic director of the World Stage in Leimert Park Village, whose recent book, The Language of Saxophones, was a California Book Award Finalist. A performance by Shihan, a two-time LA Grand Champion Slam Poet who has appeared on all five seasons of HBO’s “Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry” and is one of the hosts of Da Poetry Lounge, an open mic venue in Los Angeles, is also anticipated.

Slam poetry is a modern, urban form of poetry with some similar characteristics of hip-hop music that is said to have originated in Chicago.

“It’s more straightforward and in your face,” says Hawkins describing the style. “It’s not as subtle as literary poetry.”

Slam poetry often includes rhythm and performance and is often staged in the form of a contest. For the Thursday night contest at Highways, five judges will be chosen from the audience to rate ten performing poets, simply by whether the poets words and performance strike a nerve. Audience members are encouraged to applaud or boo judges decisions, says Hawkins, giving the competition an uproarious feel. Slam poetry is not the only style that will be featured throughout the three days of the festival. Poets with a more literary style, including Hawkins himself, will also perform.

While most poetry events are referred to as readings, Hawkins says that performance poetry calls for new terminology. “Calling our event a reading would be like calling a rapper a singer,” says Hawkins. “It doesn’t really describe what’s going on. They are performing.”

In performance poetry, the poets act out their work, often using rehearsed theatrics, props, music and/or costumes. “They do more with their voices than at a normal poetry reading,” adds Hawkins.

Hawkins is a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago and is prolific on the Los Angeles Spoken word scene, having in the past performed at venues including UCLA Hammer Museum, Henry Miller Library at Big Sur, Hudson Theater in Hollywood, the UCLA Performance Club and Highways.

Highways is staging the festival in celebration of National Poetry Month, a month-long national celebration of poetry and poetic heritage that was inaugurated in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets.

In the Beginning Was the Word was supported by the City of Santa Monica Community Arts Grant Program, a project of the Santa Monica Community Arts Commission, and Poets & Writers, Inc., through a grant the group received from The James Irvine Foundation.

Information, (310) 315-1459.

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