NOTE: Original article updated to reflect events that have already happened.
"I want to be able to touch every part of our community with poetry."
--Clinton D. Powell, teacher, actor, director, mentor, beloved poet
The city of Savannah, Georgia, lost one of its strongest advocates for the creative arts with the death of 42-year-old poet and theatre director Clinton D. Powell January 2, 2011. The Performing Arts Collective presented a public memorial service for Powell January 7 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the downtown Savannah Theater and funeral services were held for the highly-esteemed Powell on January 8 at Mustard Seed Faith Church on Chatham Parkway.
Reportedly born in Reidsville, Georgia, Clinton grew up in Savannah, where he graduated from Alfred E. Beach High School and participated in the Upward Bound Program at Savannah State University. He later studied at both Tuskegee University in Alabama and again at Savannah State. His first exposure to theater came when he participated in productions presented by the East Side Players, and he credited Rodney Creech along with Priscilla and Gary Swindell of that organization with igniting his own passion for the dramatic arts. He also acknowledged, in a 2006 interview with this author, further development under the tutelage of Savannah State's Robert L. Stevenson. He was among the regular poets who participated in the open mics formerly hosted by Sista V (Vaughnette Goode-Walker) at the Gallery Espresso.
In the Poet-Director's Own Words
Powell viewed poetry and theater as inseparable because he started writing at about the same time he joined the East Side Players as a novice performer, and later maintained that dual practice: "Theater teaches you to go into that other character and to bring that character out. So whenever I write different pieces, that's pretty much what I'm doing. It's not really me, it's not Clinton doing the set. It's that Clinton D. Powell the poet person doing the speaking.
"Once you do a piece on the stage, you become that poem or you become that piece. That's really who you are. I think that's why some artists have stage names, you know? I don't have a stage name, it's pretty much just me... When you have that name, it's kind'a like you're donning your poet-cape or I guess your super-hero cape. You can change yourself... As a spoken word artist you get to become who you want to become because you're writing all the words down."
Along with fellow creative artist RenaZance (Ralph Dillard) Powell co-founded the Spitfire Poetry Group and the Savannah Poetry Festival in 2000. Though called the Spitfire Poetry Group, Powell said the organization's goal was to help ignite passion for the creative arts in general and to inspire at-risk youth and others to employ creativity as tools of empowerment and healing in their lives. "Singing, dancing, art-- all of that is poetry to us." Their message not only caught the ears of community leaders and educators in Savannah, but of individuals and organizations around the country. Some invited Spitfire to their classrooms and cities while others heeded their call by traveling to Savannah to participate in the annual poetry festival.
Spitfire was particularly instrumental in increasing the number of venues in the city where open mic poetry was performed. Whereas previously only a coffee house or two hosted such events, the group's persistence and engaging demeanor convinced nightclub owners, restaurateurs, theater managers, and pretty much anyone with a space large enough to set up a microphone to let them-and the community-- do their thing. But of all Spitfire's notable accomplishments, the one of which Powell tended to speak most proudly was the establishment in 2005 of a "Junior Spitfire Group" composed of high school, middle school, and elementary school students.
"They're just phenomenal," said Powell. "These kids will make you cry, laugh... They make you feel all kinds of emotions through their writings and they share a lot with me, as an instructor, that they might not normally share with other people because they are young artists and they need a platform for pulling that stuff out. One of the things we teach them is this is their platform, so if there's something they're upset about, they can use their hands to convey a message instead of to destroy something. They're just some phenomenal kids. I'm really proud of them."
Judging by the outpouring of acknowledgments on Twitter, Facebook , and throughout Savannah, Georgia, Powell's community was and is really proud of him as well.
Causes Aberjhani * Supports
I make contributions to a number of charities through my lenses on Squidoo but the following are a few that interest me the most: