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2017 VERVE JUDGES
DARKMATTER is a trans south asian performance art duo comprised of Alok Vaid-Menon and Janani Balasubramanian. Based in New York City, DarkMatter regularly performs to sold-out houses at venues like La MaMa Experimental Theater, the Brooklyn Museum, Nuyorican Poets Café, and the Asian American Writer’s Workshop. DarkMatter was recently part of the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival, the Lincoln Center's La Casita Festival, and the Queer International Arts Festival. Known for their quirky aesthetic and political panache, DarkMatter has been invited to perform at stages and universities across the world.
Alok Vaid-Menon, they/them, is a nonbinary transfeminine poet and performance artist.
Janani Balasubramanian, they/them, is a writer of speculative fiction.
PAST VERVE JUDGES
Climbing PoeTree is the combined force of Alixa Garcia and Naima Penniman. Over the last 10 years, Climbing PoeTree has been at the forefront of the social and environmental justice movement by sharpening their art as a tool for popular education, community organizing, and personal transformation.
Their award-winning performance is composed of dual-voice spoken word poetry, hip hop, and multi-media theatre that dissolves apathy with hope, exposes injustice, and helps heal our inner trauma so that we may begin to cope with the issues facing our communities.
Over the last decade, Climbing PoeTree has independently organized 25 national and international tours bringing their performance to thousands of people across the U.S. and abroad from Mexico to the UK, South Africa to Cuba, alongside visionary leaders and artists such as Cornel West, Angela Davis, Alicia Keys, Alice Walker, Erykah Badu, Saul Williams, Amiri Baraka, Danny Glover, and The Last Poets, among others. They have traveled over 11,000 miles across the US on a bus converted to run on recycled vegetable oil, merging theater and activism by creating a national network that gave voice to local organizations addressing and healing the effects of unnatural disasters in their communities. Climbing PoeTree’s artistic and organizing work can be found on the walls of museums through projects such as S.T.I.T.C.H.E.D and Shadow Boxing (Created by Garcia), and in the streets of Haiti (Ayiti Resurrect, Co-Founded by Penniman).
Innovative educators and performers, Climbing PoeTree has been hand selected to participate, present and keynote at the New Story Summit in Copenhagen, Demark 2014, Bioneers National Conference, CA, 2014, and CommonBound Conference presented by The New Economy Coalition, Northeastern University, MA, 2014, to name a few. They have lead hundreds of workshops in institutions from Harvard University to Rikers Island Prison. They are currently developing a multimedia curriculum based on their latest production, Hurricane Season that employs art and culture to help learners analyze systems of oppression and resistance, and build new leadership essential for fundamental social change.
MAHOGANY L. BROWNE The Cave Canem Fellow is the author of several books including Swag & Dear Twitter: Love Letters Hashed Out On-line, recommended by Small Press Distribution & listed as About.com Best Poetry Books of 2010. She has released five LPs including the live album Sheroshima. As co-founder of the Off Broadway poetry production, Jam On It, and co-producer of NYC’s 1st Performance Poetry Festival: SoundBites Poetry Festival, Mahogany bridges the gap between lyrical poets and literary emcee. Browne has toured Germany, Amsterdam, England, Canada and recently Australia as 1/3 of the cultural arts exchange project Global Poetics. Her journalism work has been published in magazines Uptown, KING, XXL, The Source, Canada's The Word and UK's MOBO. Her poetry has been published in literary journals Pluck, Literary Bohemian, Bestiary Brown Girl Love and Up The Staircase. She is an Urban Word NYC mentor, as seen on HBO’s Brave New Voices and facilitates performance poetry and writing workshops throughout the country. She is the publisher of Penmanship Books, a small press for performance artists and owns PoetCD.Com, an on-line marketing and distribution company for poets. Mahogany is the Nuyorican Poets Café Poetry Program Director and curator of their famous Friday Night Slam.
MICHAEL CIRELLI is from Providence, RI. His newest collection, Everyone Loves The Situation (Penmanship Books, 2011), won the Silver Medal from the Independent Publishers Book Awards, as it deconstructs MTV’s hit reality show Jersey Shore. He is also the author of Vacations on the Black Star Line (Hanging Loose Press, 2010), a Paterson Poetry Prize finalist that was named in About.com's Poetry Picks "Best Books of 2010," as well as Lobster with Ol' Dirty Bastard (Hanging Loose Press, 2008), which was a NY Times bestseller from an independent press and featured in the "Debut Poets" issue of Poets & Writers Magazine. His work has appeared in The Best American Poetry, Spoken Word Revolution Redux, Hanging Loose, Texas Review, Poetry Daily, World Literature Today and King Magazine, among others. He is the Executive Director of one of the nation's largest youth literary arts organizations, Urban Word NYC, and has authored two poetry curricula, Poetry Jam (Recorded Books, 2010) and Hip-Hop Poetry & the Classics (Milk Mug, 2004). He has also appeared on HBO's Def Poetry Jam and Brave New Voices, and teaches at New York University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Bank Street College of Education. He lives in Brooklyn.
URSULA RUCKER is a Philadelphia born poet, mother, activist and recording artist. She has been performing, recording and releasing works for over 17 years. Ursula has traveled and toured extensively, throughout North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Africa…sharing her poetry…her heart and soul. She is dedicated to art as/for social change…and committed to freedom fighting, truth-telling and peace making through her chosen art form. To date, Ursula has released five solo albums (Supa Sista, Silver or Lead, ma’at mama, Ruckus Soundsysdom, She Said)…as well as collaborated on over 50 songs, in a wide array of musical genres, with producers/artists from around the world (such as King Britt, Bahamadia, The Roots, 4 Hero, Jazzanova, Louis Vega, Incognito). Ursula was awarded both the Leeway Foundation’s Art for Change & Transformation Awards. She is the feature of a documentary short called POET. And currently, she has just completed her first book, Drown the Devil…a collaborative project of poems and photos dedicated to New Orleans with Pulitzer prize winning photojournalist, Clarence Williams.