120 Market Street: After the Good Fight Starts

At first there were four.

Allen Imagery, Tony Styxx, Mike Perez and nSAYchablePoet made up the individual poets and MCs of the label, Fighting Words Poetry which began in late 2007/early 2008.  

We met every Tuesday night at our downtown studio headquarters, located at 120 Market Street. There are (or at least were) a few other studios in the building, as well as other black start up businesses who were renting smaller office spaces. It had a 'We Can Succeed' feeling because there were plenty of other African Americans there. The elevators remind me of Gotham City (NY) and the office spaces were simple but the shared meeting rooms were futuristic and fancy. We would meet to discuss shows, strategies, individual careers and other business....and of course the proverbial tom foolery and spontaneous jam sessions.

Together we toured around the Indianapolis area and nearby cities doing shows at colleges, poetry venues and for charity functions. While we were not a group, we were without doubt a family who shared the same type of love for the arts and similar artistic goals. We released two compilation CDs; “FW Presents: Lights Out” and “FW Presents The Good Fight”, as well as a few individual EPs and singles. We also headlined a huge show for The Sanctuary, which was hosting their open mic at the convention center during the Indiana Black Expo (IBE). We tirelessly on that show as it was one of our biggest to date. It included a live band, a dancer, backup singers and of course, poetry. This would be one of our last shows with the four original labelmates.

Fighting Words went through quite a few internal changes and continued to achieve greatness with each step, however, by 2014 everyone had gone their separate ways, and the label was defunct.

But in an effortlessly, magical way, something else happened over the course; A lifelong camaraderie and familial bond was formed that would not only stand the test of time and trials; it also allowed the door to open for us to work together again in different capacities.

As a part of my End-Of-The-Year Wrap Up Series, of which each of my blogs will receive their own EoTY post, I decided to make this one about life after Fighting Words. This is NOT a full detailed account of each other’s years; rather this is a quick summary of friendship and successes that started in the foundation of a label created for poets, as well as a few highlights of 2014.

This is for the times I have trolled old pictures, smiling and laughing and remembering-the-times with a sudden urge to talk about them to someone. This is for the energy created between us that will outlast our lifetimes and continue to exceed our expectations. This is for the nonstop work that has been put in  relentlessly despite the times we thought we were either failing or needed to quit….and we kept going.  And look where it got us!!!!!!!! This is for those Tuesday nights, at 120 E. Market Street, when four people got together and dreamed bigger, in fancier shapes than a circle.

Mr. Precendent – Allen Imagery – Joseph Allen Woods -  aLLEN was the brain of FWP; it was his spark that pulled all of us together. Organization. Branding. Staying ahead of your next goal. The importance of being humble. Vulnerability. Knowing how to poke fun at yourself. Allowing yourself time to laugh. Allowing yourself time to get a little crazy.
All of these incomplete sentences are descriptive phrases of attributes that aLLEN possessed. When we learned from him, as well as each other, it was very natural; never forced. aLLEN was our conduit to our futures. He showed us possibilities and ways to not just dream, but achieve. He made us responsible for our art AND for who we were. He taught us to be conscious of our actions, reactions and the name we made for ourselves….in every way we were making that name. He owned a strong business mind and combined his growing expertise with art and poetry and created ‘Our BRAND’. #BrandingGladiator  After FW, aLLEN (which he still prefers to be called), grew his name from aLLEN iMAGERY, to Joseph Allen Woods, got married and moved to Cincinnati, OH.  Poetically speaking, aLLEN no longer performs poetry on a regular basis, but he does still remain in the public eye. In addition to continuing to run the AI Design Group, speaking at engagements and co-founding the NOW Business Boot Camp (an entrepreneur workshop), he recently joined forces with two partners [William & Derrick] and together they have launched “MORTAR” in the Cincinnati area.  MORTAR plans to educate “low income urban entrepreneurs” on building their business and neighborhood through a ten week workshop course. There is also an opportunity for entrepreneurs to do a test run, Pop-Up Shop, in the quickly developing Over-The-Rhine neighborhood.

aLLEN was also the lead director on ‘The Healing Project’ for Sidney Lois Eskenazi Hospital, in which local poets wrote and created videos regarding Healing, to be available in all patient rooms at Eskenazi. These are only a few of the highlights of 2014/life after Fighting Words, but it is always a heartwarming feeling to see someone you care about soar in all that they are. Granted, we all have times where things get tough and we doubt ourselves, but who we are will always prevail and what is FOR us cannot be challenged…unless we really want it to be. aLLEN may not be found on an open mic spitting poems about Blue Violents and Yet Holding On, but Sir is holding tight to who he is and what he wants for his and his family’s life. The very techniques for artistic survival of the fittest that he instilled in his Fighting Words counterparts, are the exact weapons he is using to destroy the stereotypes of black men, black business’ and neighborhood accountability.

The Rookie – Muppet Face  - Styxx – King Styxxers
Dude was on his way to the air force when we first met. He did a poem called Naptown Nights, almost shy like in presentation, with his hoodie covering his head; quite the ironic stealth mode considering we were surrounded by large glass windows, Broadripple lights, traffic and people. In FW, Tony was known for having a sometimes less than stellar attitude, but an impressive hunger for knowledge, music and poetry. He could switch from gritty and grey poems to love notes with a hip hop swing in a swift round of an applause. He definitely brought the ‘little brother’ vibe to FW and I doubt that I would be overstepping my guesses by assuming we all were a bit protective of Styxx. We all wanted to give him the world in all of it’s truth and still stop it from hurting him at the same time. The impossible. He grew in front of us. He could be hard headed with some….make that LOTS of resistance (in certain areas). But his art never suffered. No matter how long he would go without writing, when he put pen to pad again, it was as if he never missed a letter. And when he put foot to stage, therein lies #TheBeast

King Styxxers….the human beat box. The hip hop head. The dude that knows every JayZ lyric. The realest. The poet. The thinker. The achiever. Fighting Words was Tony’s #Bootcamp into the artist life where he was able to explore both his hip hop and poetic personalities. He has spent time as a full time artist with continued travel in and out of Indiana, as well as headlining many workshops in partnership with local schools and community centers. Styxx is the host of host his own open mic (with partner Amber Michelle) V.O.W. (Vibe on Wed.), which is currently running every other Wednesday at Latitude 39. He has become a favorite among Ball State Students, opened for Jasmine Guy, released CDs, coached for the Cincinnati Louder Than A Bomb poetry slam team and performed for renowned poet Mari Evans.  He also was a participant in The Healing Project for Eskenazi Hospital.

This year alone has saw Tony achieve television status via WFYI/PBS, featured on the side of an Indygo bus as apart of the #IAmAnArtist series and performed with the Symphony Orchestra. Since this my blog and not his resume, I won’t continue, but as one can see, Tony has taken what he learned from being a part of Fighting Words and used it make it to each new level of his life a TKO.

Mike PHarez – Pharez- Damascus -The Peace Maker – Mikey Perez is what I called him and he was never a dreamer; Mike was always on a #Mission. He focused on the now and the future and he knew just what his future would entail. I remember being blown away by Mike’s poetry at the same place I would go on to meet Tony Styxx (The Cypher, Starbucks). His Puerto Rican accent mixes with a crisp awareness that pleases the ear and draws you in. His poem was emotionally political without being abrasive. His aura was love. He eventually became my brother and roster-member in Fighting Words. I don’t know what his poetic plan was or if there even was one. I think Mike was with us because it was destiny; not because he intended on releasing a CD and slamming and touring open mics. He always knew he wouldn’t be in the States long. He was vessel to be used by God to bring change and sunshine in the very underprivileged and sometimes dangerous places outside of the US that he spoke of in his poetry. I loved him for it. You hear people SAY ‘yeah, I’m gonna do missionary work’ and die without having volunteered at the local shelter. But Mike is made with something else. When he spoke it out loud, it sounded grounded in destiny.

He knows he’s good at writing and speaking, but rather than using it as HIS game, he uses it as A PART of his global change. Thailand. Burma. Honduras. And that’s not all. It’s been at least three years (if not four) since Mike left the US. He has only returned a few times and just over a year ago I, along with Tony, was able to spend a bit of time with him and hear about his mission work.
 #MissionHeir Michael Pow Kwar PHarez. 
He is really out there, walking barefoot in scary places most of us would never think to go. His pictures tell a thousand stories and even a stranger might feel proud to know Mike. And yes, he is still sharing his poetry, bringing a glimpse of God’s Light wherever he touches down. I don’t think he’ll ever stop. And he shouldn’t.

And that is the difference between dreamers and Missionaries: Dreamers can always wake up and go back to normal. Missionaries can’t stop until their heart does.

nSAYchable Poet- januarie York -The Dreamer - …….and then there is januarie. Me. The split personality having, dreamy-artsy chick with a hint of Audrey and a message from Carrie Bradshaw.  I came into Fighting Words still getting my feet wet on the microphone and figuring out who I was and what I even wanted to do with my poetry. I had NO ideas, plans, thoughts. I just knew I couldn't stop. I can hear the difference in recordings from when I made my first EP to the last track I recorded for La Douleur Exquise. I can hear the ‘baby’ in me, or the ‘wet behind my ears’. Lol. I could say so much but I have said LOTS already and I don’t want to go on about me. Basically, I learned how to dream beyond my wildest expectations. I don’t know if I would have ever thought to do some of the things I have done had I not been around these guys. I feel like I really grew up with them. Like we went back to childhood and that’s not true. Only during our time in FW did we form these unbreakable bonds that we each share collectively and as individuals. These are my brothers. I learned from them. I think about our growing season and our unfolding futures and wonder do they know how much of an impact that time we spent had?

I learned how to be bold and loud and yet passive and quiet when necessary. I stretched my wings and allowed people into my personality and my poems. I credit a great deal of that to Fighting Words. This year opened with me being a featured poet for Meet the Artists, the annual African American Arts Festival held at the Central Library. I too was apart of The Healing Project for Eskenazi, which was not just a blessing, but an honor to work with my brothers again. The ribbon cutting ceremony was held in the summer. I also moved around with my poetry by acting a little bit. I've been in two plays, one of which I was the lead character (Wizer of Oz) and the other being a theatrical adaptation of the movie ‘For Colored Girls’. I played Rose (Macy Gray in the movie) and also wrote two additional poems that were featured in the play and due to popular demand, we will be returning in February (perfect timing) for an encore show. I currently run two semi-frequent blogs, one being for the Indianapolis Recorder. The highlight of my year came when I hosted the ‘The Queen B. Legendary Ladies Ball’, modeled after Oprah’s Legends Ball. A good foundation and a floor to through will raise a healthy artist that dreams and achieves with each success AND failure. Thank you FW : )

This is a long blog.  So I’m gonna wrap it up. In conclusion I say this: I remember one Tuesday night, at the studio at 120 Market Street, aLLEN played a track and told us all to write to it. Whatever we thought of, whatever we said, just write. The key word was OPPORTUNITY.
He put the track on loop.
Mike went inside the booth and shut the door. I honestly don’t remember where the other three of us spaced out at. I was possibly at the desk, Tony on the floor and aLLEN near the keyboard. Or I could have just made that up.
After a little bit of time, we were all done. No one spoke a word during the writing session. Instead, we each breathed that very essence that drew us together in the first place and let it just ‘happen.’ The finished product was featured on the Lights Out cd.

It basically summarizes what brought us together. It may seem like poetry, it may even seem like arts. But in actuality, it was God. It was divine order. A calling that each of us had no choice but to answer, for we would be each other’s family for life. The way this poem came out, without any exchange or any premeditation is something that could only happen if the love being produced is thicker than water…….and blood.

Cheers to my brothers. We ARE an opportunity ever evolving. And what God has joined together.....................

You make me proud and I lo0oooOOOooove you EVERmore.