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Gainesville poetry slam raises cancer awareness

A promotional image for the Bard and Broadside North Central Poetry Festival created in an app using artificial intelligence
E. Stanley Richardson
A promotional image for the Bard and Broadside North Central Poetry Festival created in an app using artificial intelligence

Rayvon Rollins is a poet in Gainesville and he’s getting ready for a poetry slam about cancer.

“Holistically rebuilding a reality rotted and all it took was a look into myself to get well. Wow, I'm howling at the moon like a child in the middle of a great storm starving,” he recited.

The excerpt is part of a poem Rollins wrote about remission. He’ll be performing it under his stage name, Purple Kloud, at the Bard and Broadside North Central Poetry Festival in Gainesville this weekend.

Alachua County Poet Laureate E. Stanley Richardson is organizing the festival. He said they’re expecting poets from all over Florida and across the country.

“Writing for me is how I make sense of the world,” said Richardson.

“Everything I write just turns into poem, even if I don’t want it to, it turns into poem. I think it’s probably that way for other people. It helps them to make sense of the world around them, to interpret it, to decipher it.”

The festival features poetry slams and open mics from Thursday, April 11 until Sunday, April 14 and all the events are free. But Saturday’s event combines two of Richardson’s passions, poetry and cancer awareness.

“My father passed from prostate cancer when I think he was maybe 76, 77,” said Richardson.

“And when he was diagnosed, he was already stage four.”

The mother of Stanley’s three children also died from cancer. She had breast cancer and was 39 years old when she passed away.

“Two of the younger kids were still in high school. So that was difficult, getting them through that,” said Richardson.

Stanley is so committed to cancer awareness he even wrote a poem about getting a prostate exam, in the hopes of encouraging other men to do it

“No one wants to actually get a rectal exam. So I try to make that more, I guess, fun,” said Richardson.

Rollins’ experience is more on the healing side.

“I'm not here saying I'm a doctor, but I do understand the human spirit is capable of amazing things,” he said.

Rollins is a Musician in Residence at the Arts and Medicine program at UF Shands hospital. He plays music for patients and helps them write and record their own songs. He says spending time with patients is really fun.

“A lot of the patients are hilarious. They have a very good sense of humor. I've even played Adam Sandler songs for some patients,” said Rollins.

“They just love life and they appreciate it more. They want it to be reflected on them. They don't want to feel like they're in a hospital setting anymore. They want to be in a simulation of life and that's what I'm able to give them through a guitar, through some jokes, through rapping, whatever my skill set is calling for.”

Richardson hopes the event gets people to talk about how they’ve been touched by cancer or go for a health screening.

Saturday’s event starts at 2 p.m. at the Oakview Community Center, located at 810 NW 8th Avenue, in Gainesville.

You can find the festival’s full lineup on its Facebook page.

Áine Pennello is a multimedia reporter and Morning Edition news anchor for the College’s Innovation News Center. She has a background in video news and documentary and most recently worked at WCBS Newsradio in New York City covering local news and the tri-state area. She has also reported internationally, freelancing from Paris and Berlin during the Syrian refugee crisis. During the Syrian Civil War, Pennello reported from the Golan Heights while on a reporting grant from the International Center for Journalists.