Welcoming Space Promotes Freedom Of Expression, Inclusivity

There’s a burgeoning movement happening in Jamestown’s arts community, and it’s taking shape in the form of slam poetry.

For the past three years Pulse Poetry Slam and its members, known collectively as Team Pulse, have been a regular presence in a growing number of downtown Jamestown establishments; and its influence is being felt on an ever-widening scale.

Currently, Pulse Poetry Slam is being held downtown in three monthly series. Events are held as follows: Pulse Poetry open mic, an all ages, family friendly event held at Infinity Arts Cafe — 300 E. Third St. — every first Thursday of the month from 6-7 p.m.; PBR & Poetry, an over-21, bi-weekly series held at Mojo’s Music Bar — 104 E. Second St. — every other Wednesday from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.; and Press House Poetry Slam, a monthly all ages show, but with no ban on content, held at Labyrinth Press Company — 10 E. Fourth St. — every third Tuesday of the month from 7-9 p.m.

The following is a history of Pulse Poetry Slam as told by its founding member, Autumn Echo, and a brief Q&A with five Team Pulse members: Autumn Christine Louise Bradley; Richie Hayes, or “Rycheigh Allan”; Elise Petre, or “Eli Etcetera”; Jared Strickland, or “8 Ball”; and Scott Wilson.

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P-J: Hi, Autumn! Can you tell me about how Pulse Poetry Slam was started, and how it’s grown over the past three years?

Echo: I am the founder and “Slam Master” of Pulse Poetry Slam. I met a lot of really inspiring people when I first started exploring performance poetry, and all of that collective energy to create a community and a movement was really instrumental in deciding to start an event series in Jamestown. I owe so much to our poet friends with Pure Ink in Buffalo. They have supported us as a team, as a community and as individual artists, and it’s played a huge role in shaping Pulse into what it is today.

I started Pulse when I was 18 years old. At the time, I couldn’t even imagine how successful the events would end up being. I am so proud of this city for having open arms and giving performance poetry and slam a chance. At this point in time, we have hosted close to 80 events at quite a few different venues in Jamestown. As a team, we have had the privilege of performing in different classrooms and passing on this knowledge and passion for performance poetry to youth in the area. We have seen a lot of ebb and flow in the scene that we have created, and that has been an exciting part of the experience in itself.

In 2015-16 we were hosting a series at Phoenix Rising Wellness Studio called “Fire Nights,” and it was amazing to see how many new faces came and found a home in Pulse while that event was happening. “Fire Nights” created a baseline idea of the energy and the kind of community that we wanted to create. After that series ended, we kind of took a deep breath as a team and decided it was an opportunity for us to bring that energy to a new audience.

We now have the Press House Poetry Slam series at Labyrinth Press Company. Once again, we are seeing an entirely new part of our community with this event. That has been the coolest thing about exploring different venues in our city. Every place has a different crowd and a different audience. No two events are the same. In addition to the Press House Series, we are also hosting a late-night open mic series at Mojo’s called PBR & Poetry, and we have always had our family friendly open mic at Infinity Visual and Performing Arts. At this point, we are basically hosting one poetry event a week. I’m sure that seems crazy, but when you have three different vibes and an entire team of incredible artists to back you up, something like that isn’t impossible.

P-J: Can you tell me about Team Pulse, and how people can learn more if they’re interested?

Echo: Team Pulse is comprised of myself, Autumn Christine Louise, Rycheigh Allan, Eli Etcetera, 8 Ball and Scott Wilson. The team has gained and lost members in the past couple of years, but we have a solid core group of performers dedicated to the mission of Pulse that help make things happen. We meet on a regular basis to discuss ways to better our events and the local poetry community. We share ideas, discuss event planning and workshop poems together. We have the goal of moving towards Poetry Slam Inc. certification and hope to take a team to National Poetry Slam by 2018.

As a team, we have been able to do a lot of cool things together. In the past year, we have competed in Empire State Poetry Slam and Queen Elizabeth Way Poetry Slam, both events hosted in Buffalo, which allowed us to represent Jamestown on a regional and international scale. That has been really rewarding and encouraging to us as individual artists, and of course it has brought us closer together as a team. We look forward to having the opportunity to represent Jamestown even more in the future.

If you want more information about our events, please feel free to check out our page on Facebook, “Pulse Poetry Slam.” Send us a message. Talk to us about what the events are like. Nothing that we do matters without the participation of our community. This stage is for you. You can be afraid to take the first steps, and hesitant to share your poetry. Every single one of us has been there. We have changed and grown as human beings by allowing ourselves this freedom of expression, and we want everyone to know they have that opportunity as well.

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P-J: For the remainder of Team Pulse, I’ve prepared the following questions: How did you become involved with Pulse Poetry Slam? What do you enjoy about it, and what do you get out of the experience? What is the importance of having and supporting a community such as this in our area?

Hayes: At the cusp of summer 2014, my life held promise of new beginnings. One of which was reintroducing performance poetry into my life. I had just reconnected with my childhood friend, Autumn Bradley, who shared the same feelings as I did. It had just so happened Pulse Poetry would hold its first event that very month. Autumn and I began attending each event, becoming great friends with the founder and host, Autumn Echo. Since those early days, the three of us always knew we wanted to someday get a team together and represent Jamestown in the world of performance poetry. It was fate falling into place. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be right now.

As an actor, what I always tell people is I am most at home and most myself when on stage. The thing about actors is we are the best at hiding but the worst at finding ourselves. We get lost behind all the masks and make up. Poetry has given me that back. In a way, it sort of balances me out. I’m able to truly confront myself and be honest about who I am. It gives healing and recovery through all of life’s troubles. I enjoy so much, as a performer, another opportunity to intimately engage an audience and hopefully inspire those around me.

In a town plagued by its reputation of addiction and mental health decline, a town known to be riddled with financial disparity and rampant crime, this is an opportunity to show those holstering such ignorant cliches on their hip and casting them out on our streets that they’re wrong about us. This is the most honest pulpit any church could ever contend with. This is Jamestown, unedited and unapologetic. This is the greatest family you’ll ever know. No setting is more supportive and uplifting than that of Pulse Poetry in this city. When lost in an unfamiliar place, look to its open mics and poetry slams. It is there you will find refuge. You will find open arms welcoming you home.

Wilson: I attended an event and eventually transitioned into open mic and competing in the slams. I enjoy the supportive atmosphere even in the competitive setting, and it also serves as a form of therapy. It helps to facilitate acceptance and provides a venue to see how others view themselves and society. This type of community perpetuates a sense of inclusion and communication and allows us to spread positivity.

Strickland: I attended the “Fire Nights” slam as an audience member and was inspired by the other poets to read some of my poetry. Then I started helping Autumn and the team with the events and traveling with them to events in Buffalo. They basically adopted me as a kind of mad uncle. It’s been hugely gratifying to put my work in front of an audience. The response from the audience and from fellow poets has been kind and encouraging. It’s also a therapeutic outlet for things rattling around in my skull. Also, I’ve met and befriended so many people because of Pulse Poetry. It provides an stage, a forum, or outlet for people who have a lot to say or anything at all to say and have a need or desire to be heard. Writing is the single greatest invention of our species. Scribing thoughts and feelings into any medium is powerful. Sharing those arranged — either ordered or disordered — expressions can connect, inspire and uplift people. Shared thoughts, emotions and memories become a shared experience.

Petre: I actually just passed my three-year anniversary with Pulse. I grew up with Pulse’s founder Autumn Echo, and I’ve always enjoyed writing in many forms. Although she and I grew apart, we rekindled our friendship shortly after Pulse began, and I immediately became interested and started attending and participating in events. I love so much about performance poetry; the challenge, the release of emotions it provides, the people, the thrill — everything. For me, performance poetry is a home where I can express my emotions and thoughts, hear others and improve myself in multiple ways. It pushes my creativity, my understanding and gives me motivation to challenge and push myself. Having and supporting the Pulse community here in Jamestown is incredibly important. Pulse is a place for any and all. Our doors are open to any who wish to express themselves without judgment. Oftentimes, you’ll hear, “there’s nothing to do in Jamestown,” but with Pulse having multiple events each month, that’s not the case. We are a safe haven and all communities, especially ours, need one.

Bradley: I became friends with 2.0 (Echo) before she created Pulse. She took me to my first Poetry Slam and encouraged me to read. After walking out the slam champ I was inspired to continue writing. Then, Echo told me about an event she was creating and I knew I had to keep performing, as well. There are so many things to enjoy about Pulse and the poetry community in general. I love how open minded and non-judgmental the atmosphere is so that everyone feels safe and welcome. I have found family. I have found hope. I have made more friends locally, around Western New York, and even internationally. I have used poetry to cope with anxiety, grief and heartbreak. Without this I would not have my group of friends I have today.

The importance of this community is that we have a positive place for people to come and share their stories. Where people can come together and say “I hear you” and “I’ve been there.” We uplift each other and laugh together and welcome everyone to come and join us. We do not tolerate any negative behavior, so everyone who comes can have a positive experience. It’s important to continue supporting each other. You never know what another individual is going through. One of the greatest feelings is having someone tell you after listening to your poetry “I have experienced that, too,” or “that’s how I feel and I could never explain it before.” It’s such a rewarding experience and it’s what keeps me writing.