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Fears come into focus at St. Petersburg poetry showcase

Local writers reflect on gun violence, life during COVID-19, motherhood and finding strength through pain during an event at The Studio@620.
Sisters Keesha and Miesha Brundridge helped curate a poetry show on fear, which was held at The Studio@620 on Tuesday, June 7, 2022.
Sisters Keesha and Miesha Brundridge helped curate a poetry show on fear, which was held at The Studio@620 on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. [ LAUREN PEACE | Times ]
Published Jun. 8|Updated Jun. 9

ST. PETERSBURG — A low-pitched hum bounced around the gallery as people filled chairs in the darkened studio space. Candlelight flickered, dancing to an ominous sound that came and went like waves.

It felt like the opening sequence to a horror film, but instead of monsters or ghouls or ghosts, a man took the stage.

He recited poetry.

“Welcome to Fear Factor,” a voice sang.

For two hours on Tuesday night, poets from around Tampa Bay took turns at the mic at The Studio@620 for a show that featured stories about the things that scare us most.

Ja'Naye Hardy, known as Modern Medusa, reads a poem from her book during the Fear Factor poetry slam on June 7, 2022, at The Studio@620.
Ja'Naye Hardy, known as Modern Medusa, reads a poem from her book during the Fear Factor poetry slam on June 7, 2022, at The Studio@620. [ LAUREN PEACE | Times ]

Miesha Brundridge, a poet who helped curate the event with her twin sister, Keesha, said that her intention was to create a community space where the fears weighing on people could be heard and healed.

“We’re coming out to discuss something that is bothering us or something we’re overcoming,” Brundridge said. “We can forget about it and run, or face it and rise.”

She said the writings showcased capture this time in history, the struggles collectively faced.

Over the course of the evening, 13 artists recited on subjects ranging from gun violence and mass incarceration to motherhood, unemployment, sexual violence and the racial disparities perpetuated during COVID-19.

“The new form of discrimination will be how you got the vaccine,” one poet, Dwayne Dowdell, recited early in the evening.

In another line, Dowdell, who goes by Change the Poet, said, “Anything made from cotton, my people should get for free.”

People mingle in the lobby of The Studio@620 in downtown St. Petersburg during the Fear Factor poetry showcase on June 7, 2022.
People mingle in the lobby of The Studio@620 in downtown St. Petersburg during the Fear Factor poetry showcase on June 7, 2022. [ LAUREN PEACE | Times ]

In a performance that followed, poet Ja’Naye Hardy, known as Modern Medusa, recited a poem titled “Coffee Stained Wooden Tables,” in which she described being violated by somebody she had once considered a friend.

She reflected that when people have been through so much in life, it’s hard to be afraid of anything. Others nodded in agreement.

“If I wasn’t pro-Black lives I would have packed the nine and killed him. Feeling guilt because I placed another Black man in the system. So when I speak the fear — my fear of violation — it feels different,” she recited.

In one of the final readings of the night, Roberta Torres, whose stage name is Lyfe, spoke about her fear of recycling family trauma. In her poem, about having a mother whose vices left her children feeling abandoned, Torres ventured into an analysis of her own trials in motherhood, exploring the fear of succumbing to the same cycle.

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“Fears, to me, have become a roadmap, a guide,” Torres said. “I’ve learned that fears are an instinct and part of me. They have a job to do.”

The Studio@620 in downtown St. Petersburg.
The Studio@620 in downtown St. Petersburg. [ LAUREN PEACE | Times ]

Brundridge said that she curates poetry shows at The Studio@620 every three months and expects the next one to take place in September.

To connect with the poets from Tuesday’s show, you can follow many of them on Instagram at the following handles: @poetryisme_87, @keeshaking, @eye_am_lyfe, @modernmedusapoetry, @godbod614, @sarapoempies, @alexandramorgangeiger, @silly.ap, @aeneainternet, @spiritually_infinite.

To learn more about upcoming events at The Studio@620, visit thestudioat620.org/events/.

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