October 17, 2005: Headlines: COS - Cameroon: Poetry: Poetry Slam: The Register-Guard: Cameroon RPCV Marietta Bonaventure to referee poetry slam

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Cameroon: Peace Corps Cameroon: The Peace Corps in Cameroon: October 17, 2005: Headlines: COS - Cameroon: Poetry: Poetry Slam: The Register-Guard: Cameroon RPCV Marietta Bonaventure to referee poetry slam

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Cameroon RPCV Marietta Bonaventure to referee poetry slam

Cameroon RPCV Marietta Bonaventure to referee poetry slam

Bonaventure has been involved in music, dancing and art. She's a former member of the Cuban band Son Mela'o, a former member of the belly dance troupe Muraja and, for the past six years, she's organized the Tom Waits Tribute Night, a gathering of local musicians playing cover tunes. "I think my greatest contributions to this community have been about creating forums for other people. I'm not sure if that's an excuse so I don't have to deal with my own creativity, but I think it's really valuable."

Cameroon RPCV Marietta Bonaventure to referee poetry slam

People: No dead poets' society
By Lewis Taylor
The Register-Guard
Published: Monday, October 17, 2005

Caption: Marietta Bonaventure prepares to referee the verbal combat of two contestants in a poetry slam.
Photo: Wayne Eastburn The Register-Guard

Marietta Bonaventure calls herself a poetry activist.

"I absolutely think poetry will save the world," says the 33-year-old grad school student and poetry slam organizer. "I've learned so much from listening to people (read poetry). Experiences that I never would have imagined or insights that people have on themselves or the world that you just don't get in conversation.

"In a world where all you get is lies, it's a real treasure to be honest."

It isn't just good, honest poetry that interests Bonaventure, but performance poetry, also known as spoken word. Several years ago, she began hosting the area's first poetry slams - timed, competitive poetry events that stress the art of performance over well-crafted stanzas - at the bookstore she owned, the now-defunct Foolscap Books.

The response was immediate.

"We did a couple of them and the energy was just over the top, like nothing I had ever seen," she recalled. "I had never even been to a poetry slam before I had one."

The rules for poetry slams are simple. Poets have three minutes to state their piece and then are judged by a panel of audience members selected just before the show. Winning poets sometimes get small cash prizes. Styles can vary from 1960s beat poetry to political to comedic to hip-hop-inspired.

"It's interactive art, as opposed to passive," says Rena Dunbar, 33, an English teacher at South Eugene High School and a regular at the local slams. "You're kind of taking it in, evaluating how someone else has done. You're a part of it."

Since those first slams three years ago, poetry in Eugene has grown. Bonaventure has been one of the scene's biggest supporters. In addition to organizing and hosting the events, she's helped coach poets, encouraged high-schoolers to discover poetry and worked to raise money to send a team of Eugene slam poets to a national championship.

"She's superwoman," says Dakota Belle Witt, a poet who has worked with Bonaventure as a coach for slam poets. "She does all these amazing things effortlessly. She's not one of those community organizers who's always frazzled. ... She's sweet and warm and she always seems kind of chill."

Sam Rutledge, a poet and two-time member of the Eugene team that went to nationals, says Bonaventure has helped performance poetry grow from an underground scene dominated by art students into a more mainstream entertainment genre.

"When I first became involved (in slam poetry), the events were centered around the university," Rutledge says. "Marietta sort of saw those events and said, this could be a real thing. She found out what it would take to make that happen."

In recent years, older audience members have been regularly showing up for poetry slams. This season, which kicks off Saturday, the group is hoping to attract its biggest and widest-ranging audience yet.

"We're really excited about reaching out to new audiences," Bonaventure says. "I think the season is going to be bigger because we've done a lot of outreach to young poets."

Bonaventure also hopes to raise more money during the season instead of waiting for the weeks leading up to nationals. The Eugene Poetry Slam is selling merchandise at the six open-round events that wrap up in March and at the two April playoff rounds. The final slam of the season happens May 16.

At the August 2005 nationals in Albuquerque, N.M., the Eugene team had its highest showing yet, finishing in the top 25. This year Bonaventure, who is studying to become a high school teacher, has enlisted more outside help to organize the slams. She says the poets are improving each year.

"We're developing, but I don't think we're developing into `slam clones,' " Bonaventure says. "Eugene is less focused on the glitz and the fireworks of slam. ... Audiences tend to like real poetry that is about something."

Bonaventure also has been involved in music, dancing and art. She's a former member of the Cuban band Son Mela'o, a former member of the belly dance troupe Muraja and, for the past six years, she's organized the Tom Waits Tribute Night, a gathering of local musicians playing cover tunes.

Bonaventure says she wasn't always so involved in community affairs. Her hometown of Downey, Calif., had small pockets of artists but, she says, it was a far less collaborative scene than Eugene.

After graduating from high school, Bonaventure went on to college at the University of Long Beach, where she studied comparative literature and art history. In 1995 she joined the Peace Corps and went to Cameroon, West Africa, to teach English. When her tour of duty was over, she found it difficult to assimilate to her old life.

"I just couldn't take Southern California after living in a village for two years," she says.

Unsure of her next destination, Bonaventure headed north in search of a new nesting ground. After a tour of the Northwest, she settled on Eugene, a city that agreed with her instantly.

"I had lunch at the Morning Glory Cafe and I thought, I could totally live here," she recalled.

One of the first things Bonaventure did after moving to the area was to enroll in a beginning belly dancing class. She invited her classmates into her home and found an instant community.

"It was great," she says. "They started coming over every Tuesday and it was more about drinking and smoking than dancing but it didn't matter."

In 1999 Bonaventure opened Foolscap Books, a bookstore on Blair Boulevard that also hosted performance events. She relied on her own experiences, helping to run a bookstore in Orange, Calif., owned by her parents.

"A lot of people came to our events, a lot of people shared the space," she said. "It was like having people in my living room."

Poetry slams weren't the only kind of event Bonaventure hosted. There was visual art, dance and music. The ambiance of the bookstore gave performances a unique flavor, says Belle Witt.

"It was really tightly packed and it had this underground feel," she recalled.

Bonaventure calls her time at Foolscap "really fulfilling but financially devastating." After closing the shop in 2004, she filed for bankruptcy. She has continued to sell books on the Internet, but has otherwise liquidated the business.

"I can honestly say bankruptcy was made for people like me," Bonaventure says. "I was a small business owner who took a risk to get something off the ground, and it didn't work."

After spending a year looking for work, Bonaventure decided to return to graduate school and pursue a career in teaching. In June, she enrolled in a master's program at Oregon State University. She recently started student-teaching a freshman English class and plans to take on a world literature course for juniors and seniors.

Bonaventure says she was partly drawn to teaching by her experiences coaching poets and instructing artists in other disciplines.

"I've taught belly dancing, I've taught art, I've taught singing," she says. "It just made sense.

"I think my greatest contributions to this community have been about creating forums for other people. I'm not sure if that's an excuse so I don't have to deal with my own creativity, but I think it's really valuable."

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Story Source: The Register-Guard

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