Things couldve gone one of two ways for William ONeal when he completed his treatment at Hilltop House last year better or worse. Fortunately for him and many kindred spirits, things got better.
Searching for a way to make a positive impression on his new community, the New Orleans native founded Brickhouse Entertainment, a loose group of like-minded souls who meet monthly for public poetry slams. The first events were held at Durango Joes Coffee Shop, and after months of practice, many of the 15 or so regular poets have found their voice. The most recent location, including Sunday nights event, is Christinas Grill & Bar.
About 40 people attended Sundays slam. In addition to some soul-bearing poetry, the audience was serenaded by Jessica Watters and an impromptu breakdance performance by 8-year-old Geron Goring, who jumped in when Derek Pierce and his friends backed out of an ad-lib hip-hop set.
You see local people all the time at Albertsons or Applebees, but you dont know what their everyday life is like or what they go through, ONeal said.
This is a chance to let their soul bleed a little bit.
One of the bravest souls was 14-year-old Brady Fields, who is becoming a regular at Brickhouse events. The Bayfield teen, who will be a freshman this fall, recited several heart-wrenching and at times vitriolic poems about the breakup of his family, which he blames on his father. His older brother Lucas, also a regular reader, encouraged Brady to let it all out.
Dad left when I was 11, and this is an outlet for me to express my feelings, Brady said.
Whenever Im feeling down or I need to boost my spirits, I go to my poetry. My Moms proud, but shes not really a fan; she wants me to be a better Christian and some of its pretty dark.
Many of the poets, such as Erin Benson, Mariposa Villaluna and Talia White, recite their poetry from memory, while others have thick tomes of their work and read selections Joseph Bolden and the Fields brothers are among the latter. Both methods are equally effective. And moving: Hands shake as the words are read, voices crack, tears are visible. These are people baring their souls and getting support from their peers.
These people make it really easy to share, Benson said.
ONeal typically opens the evening reading his own material and acts as emcee for the show while continuing to share his poetry throughout. Like so many of the Brickhouse crowd, the poetry is personally therapeutic for ONeal, but its his charisma and genuine respect for all of the attendees that makes the night a success.
Through trouble, Im able to find what I want to do, and Im trying to inspire others to do the same, ONeal said.
ONeal has invitations to take Brickhouse to the Southern Ute reservation, the Boys and Girls Club and other area organizations, but doing it without a budget is starting to be a challenge. He said the next step is to get funding, possibly through grants and local community foundations, and possibly find a permanent home for Brickhouse to serve a population of the community that may be silent now but doesnt necessarily like it that way. ONeals happy to provide a place for everyone to be heard.
When I left the (Hilltop) program, I said you guys are here to put me back into society let me do that, he said.