JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — The lights dimmed and music played as poets and actors performed on stage during the Joint Base Balad Poetry Slam Feb. 11 at Morale, Welfare and Recreation east.
The Poetry Slam was sponsored by the JBB Pan-Hellenic Council, known as the Divine Nine in the United States, which consists of nine historically black Greek fraternal and sorority societies.
Thomas D. Battle, the battalion adjutant with 2nd Battalion, 402nd Army Field Support Brigade out of Rock Island, Ill., headed the committee for the event.
"We wanted to introduce poetry to JBB," said Battle, a Portsmouth, Va., native.
Spoken word poetry is an art form that uses memory, he said. Service members may have read poetry in books or heard it read aloud, but they rarely witness the art form performed from memory on stage, said Battle.
"We had a few people tonight, including myself, who practice spoken word," he said.
Battle said he earned the nickname Lyric because he tells his stories through spoken word poetry.
Spoken word is a large part of African history, which was captured by poets who traveled from village to village telling stories through poetry, he said.
The Poetry Slam began with a Greek dance demonstration and a telling of each society's history. Then the performers told their stories through poetry.
An open microphone option allowed service members who were not on the original performance roster to tell their stories on stage.
Emotions played a big role during the entertainment, said Battle, as performers mixed happiness, anger, sadness, friendship, love and lust during role play and storytelling. He said service members encounter these emotions daily, so watching them put it on paper and share it was therapeutic.
Poetry can include topics ranging from love and religion to politics and sports, said Battle.
Maj. Robert W. Catlin, the 90th Sustainment Brigade's Iraqi Security Forces project manager of a Logistics Training and Advisory Team, with the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), said he has been a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. for 21 years.
Catlin, a Nashville, Tenn., native, said the event was a tribute to Black History Month, with a college campus atmosphere that enabled service members to relax and tell their stories to the audience.
"I think it was good timing for the event," he said. "It was a great time. [It referenced] black history, culture and intelligence. It's always good to celebrate and explore different cultural heritages."
Battle, an Iota Phi Theta member, said all ages, genders and social backgrounds were represented at the event.
The MWR east had seating capacity for about 200, but much of the audience stood along the walls, said Battle. He attributed this to the resurgence of spoken word art.
"People are more interested once they've seen the spoken word artist, and they want to get everyone's point of view," he said. "It's very interesting to see people express their point of view in different ways. Some people use anger, some people use humor, some people use facts, some people use fiction, but it all ties into an emotion."