Looking for a good (drug- and alcohol-free) time? Poetic Recovery’s got you covered.

  • Poet and activist Maurice Taylor formed Poetic Recovery more than a decade ago as a drug- and alcohol-free space and forum for artists and audience members to express themselves.   Chris Goudreau

  • Taylor performs alongside a freestyle spoken word piece accompanied by guitarist Wesley Parker.  By Chris Goudreau—

  • Taylor welcomes audience members to his Poetic Recovery open mic night in Springfield.  By Chris Goudreau—

  • Marquez Pharms, 23 of Springfield, (right) films a video of a performer at a recent Poetic Recovery open mic night.  By Chris Goudreau—

  • Maurice Taylor  By Chris Goudreau—

  • Poet Maurice Taylor creates an improvised poem called “The World’s Greatest Man,” which was created using words given to him by open mic attendees.  By Chris Goudreau

  • R&B and gospel singer Antwon Dudley, whose stage name is Black A, performed a set of backing tracked original music.  By Chris Goudreau

  • Venues range from Flywheel Arts Collective in Easthampton and The Thirsty Mind Café in South Hadley to Make It Springfield.  Chris Goudreau

  • Retired taxi driver and first-time performer Joe Gervasini reads from his poems, including one called “Walt Whitman & MTV.” Chris Goudreau

  • South Hadley native Wesley Parker performs original fingerstyle acoustic guitar compositions as a featured performer during Poetic Recovery’s open mic.  Chris Goudreau

Published: 1/4/2019 11:18:19 AM

Holyoke-based poet and activist Maurice ‘Soulfighter’ Taylor knows personally what it’s like to struggle with addiction. For Taylor, making art has been a way to heal.

That’s why he formed the “Poetic Recovery” open mic in 2006 to offer a safe drug- and alcohol-free arts space for people express their creativity, whether that’s poetry, a wide range of music or rapping. The open mic also serves as an open forum to discuss social issues such as racism and focuses on bringing different groups of people together.

“The mantra is finding self through words and phrases,” he said. “When I came into recovery there was no space for me to go and really perform without alcohol or drugs. So I had to create that.”  

Taylor was in eight different foster homes growing up and is a survivor of sexual abuse. He said he smoked marijuana in the 1990s as a way to cope with his pain and relied upon the drug. He was kicked out of his foster home at 18 years old and living paycheck to paycheck.

“My drug of choice was weed and a lot of people laugh at that,” he added. “I’ve seen a lot of people who are in denial … I’d go to work and my check would be spent. I’d spend my whole check on weed. I got to that point where I never dealt with that trauma inside and it was overwhelming.”

But his life fundamentally changed when Taylor was caught in a drug raid and ended up in jail.

“I had to think about what I wanted to do with my life,” he added. “I had started the process of recovery before, but it hadn’t taken hold because there was so much trauma … One thing that was missing was the ability for me to perform.”

Poetic Recovery is a project of Taylor’s “Community Against Hate,” which he created to help educate artists about social and political issues in order to spur changes in their communities. He quickly realized that in order to fulfill Community Against Hate’s mission he needed a venue for artists to perform. “Cultural expression wasn’t supported and I had to go and start something that would support it,” he said.

The open mic has had many homes across the Pioneer Valley during the past decade, including past venues such as The Thirsty Mind Cafe in South Hadley, Flywheel Arts Collective in Easthampton and Make It Springfield in Springfield.

Taylor said the reason why he hosts the open mic in venues across the Pioneer Valley in both Hampden and Hampshire Counties is because he wants to bridge the gap between both sides of the so-called Tofu Curtain.

“As long as we allow ourselves to stay divided and willfully ignorant, then the powers that be will utilize those divisions to fuel anger and hatred towards each other,” he added. “We can find ways to change things. I don’t think it’s going to happen today, but it definitely allows us the space to think about what these issues are and how to take them on.”

On a December evening at Make It Springfield on Worthington Street in downtown Springfield more than a dozen people picked random words such as “universal,” “time,” “joy,” and “reform,” all of which ended up being used in an improvised poem Taylor performed called “The World’s Greatest Man.”

During his freestyle poem, Taylor lamented the rise of racist ideology in the United States while envisioning a world free from hate and racism. A main ethos for Poetic Recovery is promoting positive change by rejecting misogyny, racism and violence.

“The hardest thing is encouraging people that you can rhyme and be positive and that people will listen to you,” Taylor said before the start of the open mic.

But it isn’t just Taylor organizing the open mic. Pearl Manus, a 30-year-old Valley resident, has been co-organizing Poetic Recovery’s open mic for the past year at venues in Holyoke, Northampton, Easthampton and Springfield.

Manus, a poet and spoken word artist, said she loves Poetic Recovery because “it’s a safe place to create something new and positive” without negativity attached to music or other art forms.

Marquez Pharms, 23 of Springfield, sat in the audience taking short video clips of the performers before his set. He’s a singer/rapper influenced by rap/ hip hop artists as well as rock and country music. As an artist, he said he finds the Poetic Recovery open mic to be a place that gives everyone a stage.

He said he hasn’t heard of anyone else hosting drug and alcohol free open mics in the Pioneer Valley and finds it disappointing that there aren’t many other performing arts venues or open mics for people in recovery.

“On the same hand, it happens somewhere,” Pharms added. “It doesn’t matter how much it happens as long as it does happen. As long as someone cares enough to do it, that’s good enough for me realistically.”  

Gospel R&B singer Antwon Dudley, 37, drove all the way from Hartford to participate in last month’s open mic. The singer, who goes by the stage name “Black A,” first met Taylor at an open mic night at the Flywheel Arts Collective and uses soulful lyrics to describe overcoming his struggles.

Dudley has been in recovery for the past two and a half years after 22 years of addiction. Now as a performer, he hopes his lyrics will inspire others to make changes in their lives.

“In my performance, I reach out to other people in recovery who are suffering through struggles on the street,” he said. “For myself, I’ve been through the same thing. I decided to take my music and to reach out to people that could inspire other people to do better things in their life because no one’s perfect.”

He added, “Nothing mattered to me but that main drug and going to get high,” he said. “I finally put that weapon down and decided to change for the better of myself, not just everyone else. I couldn’t keep suffering and keep doing that to myself anymore.”

 Guitarist Wesley Parker, 28, first met Taylor five or six years ago at the Thirsty Mind Cafe in his hometown of South Hadley.

“I’ve never heard of anything like this or seen anything like this,” Parker said. “It’s just good to know that anyone can go here. It’s an open forum and people seem to have a sense of mutual respect for one another regardless of their race or gender.”

Taylor invited Parker to perform at the now-closed White Rose Bookstore in Holyoke along with another classically trained guitarist. Although the other guitarist was a stranger at the beginning of the night, by the end of the open mic both guitarists had been jamming together for more than hour while Taylor performed improvised freestyle poetry.

Another performer who signed up that evening was 72-year-old retired taxi driver and Springfield resident Joe Gervasini. One of his poems was titled “Walt Whitman & MTV,” which he explained to the crowd he wrote as a critique of television in the 1990s.

The audience applauded his original poetry and after he sat back down in his chair he said it was his first time performing at the open mic, but wouldn’t be his last.

Taylor said Poetic Recovery isn’t just an open mic, the group also promotes local positive artists on its website through online-based music streaming. Taylor’s also a recognized member of the San Jose, California-based Hip Hop Congress, a nonprofit and grassroots organization with a mission to evolve hip hop culture through social action and creativity within communities. But most importantly for Taylor, Poetic Recovery has helped change lives.

One example is when Taylor helped a then-16-year-old young man in Springfield realize his passion for breakdancing many years ago and turned him away from a criminal gang in the city through Poetic Recovery.

“He was able to perform as a breakdancer with some of the original members of the original [1983 hip hop film] Wild Style. That changed his life. That gave him hope … He has two children now and lives in New Jersey.”

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com.

The next Poetic Recovery open mic will take place on Jan. 12 at Make It Springfield, 168 Worthington St., Springfield from 7 to 10 p.m. For more information about Poetic Recovery visit http://poeticrecovery.net/

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