As a writer and periodic public speaker, I’ve dabbled in the fine art of spoken-word for years, here and there. If I said I was any good, I’d be lying, but I’ve done just enough of it to inform my deep and sincere appreciation for those who can actually do it well. To that end, I’d say at least two of the best in the business happen to be residents of Northeast Florida. There is, of course, the singularly-skilled Al Letson, whose fans have watched him grow from slam-poetry roots into one-man shows in multiple states, network TV commercials, his own acclaimed show (“State of the Re:Union“) on NPR and even writing comic-books. The other is Matthew “Cuban” Hernandez, who also emerged from the world of slam-poetry and who has also crafted his own unique and compelling career.
That trajectory, which began at open-mic shows in Jacksonville, is now poised to carry him all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, to England, with your help. Hernandez, who is currently working through a three-month spoken-word tour of the west coast, has put together a website at IndieGogo.com (a Kickstarter-type operation) detailing his plans for this year; these plans include not only a slate of scheduled performances in England, but also a project that, believe it or not, is even closer to his heart than his own material. Having already made his name as one of this country’s elite slam-poetry teachers (largely through his work with the Jacksonville youth poetry collective “Shattered Thought”), Hernandez was recently invited to jump the pond and come coach the 2013 UK Youth Slam team, based in historic Leeds. This presents him with not only the opportunity to expand his own personal brand, but to further strengthen the already surprisingly strong connection between the First Coast and the UK.
What Hernandez needs is a dollop of the heavy scratch to fund his adventures, and that is what the web campaign facilitated. Supporters can contribute as little as $1 toward helping Hernandez follow his own dream, while simultaneously helping to school the next generation of spoken-word talent. Larger donations are rewarded with sumptuous swag: $25 gets you two autographed copies of Cuban’s excellent debut CD, which makes a nice gift for fans of the genre; $60 gets you three signed copies; $100 gets you the three CDs, plus a custom-composed poem from him to you. For $500, you name it! So far, almost two dozen people have pledged funds at this early stage of the campaign, mostly in increments of $100, but those numbers are sure to increase–as they should, because Matthew Cuban is an extremely talented artist who really embodies the spirit of Ben Franklin’s words about “doing well by doing good”. One hopes he succeeds, now and in the future.
(Now, this is entirely tangential to the subject at hand, but since we’re discussing spoken-word and the UK, I’ll deviate briefly for purpose of putting over the amazing Brockley-based Kate Tempest, who at just 26 has already distinguished herself as perhaps the world’s #1 performance-poet–a subjective take, yes, but one that is easily arguable. When I heard of Cuban’s project, she was the first person I thought of, so of course one hopes that Hernandez’s run on the island includes at least one summit meeting with the creator of “Cannibal Kids”!)