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Posted by : cj on Thursday, May 19, 2005 - 01:48 PM
Poetry Gossip: Click On Headlines .
The last minute blow-off by pop star Jill Scott ought to serve as a lesson for The Poetry Center of Chicago: stay away from poets who think they are celebrities, and especially stay away from celebrities who think they are poets. Maybe it's time for the Poetry Center to put more focus on local and well-known authors. In any case, Jill Scott's decision to leave the Poetry Center and about 800 Chicagoans hanging was probably the stupidest move anyone could have ever made in promotion of their new book of poetry. And the Chicago Poetry Scene does not deserve such a snub.

Scott, who goes by the title "neosoul diva," was scheduled to do a reading for the Poetry Center on May 9th. This would have been the most recent presentation by the center featuring pop stars who also write poetry. Other presentations included Billy Corgan and Lucinda Williams with her dad. Scott had just released her book of poetry, The Moments, the Minutes, the Hours. St. Martin's Press, Scott's publisher, was the one who suggested she do a reading at the Poetry Center, and judging by the success of previous pop star poetry readings, the center gladly took them up on it.

It was no secret to anyone that there was a 45 minute poetry reading by Jill Scott scheduled at the Art Institute for that evening. It was no secret what the ticket price would be, $25 to cover the cost of hosting and promoting the event as well as to benefit the center's other literary programs, with plenty of free ticket give-aways and discounts to students. The reading was publicized on WGCI and V103. The information appeared on the cover of section three of the Chicago Reader. The information was posted at poetrycenter.org and even on chicagopoetry.com. Due to this wonderful promotion by the Poetry Center, more than 400 tickets were sold in advance for the event and 250 more had been given away--free. Not only that, but Jill Scott had appeared on television promoting the reading herself!

So what was the problem?

You might say it was cold feet. Maybe she had a broken nail. Who knows how the minds of celebrities work? But suddenly, out of the blue, Jill Scott contacted the Chicago Tribune (not the Poetry Center) to proclaim that she was blowing off the reading in "protest" over the admission price. Huh? Protest my ass! Given the choice, how many people who were waiting in that line for over an hour would have chosen their money back over getting to see one of their idols read poetry? Not one. Jill Scott wasn't doing anyone any favors. She wasn't sticking up for anyone's rights. Hundreds of people in that line even had free or discounted tickets. What kind of lousy protest is that?

Sounds more like stage fright. What else could it have been? Faced with having to entertain a large crowd for forty-five minutes without a back-up band, Jill Scott simply chickened out. Maybe she didn't have faith in her own poetry. Even when Executive Director Ken Clarke offered to refund everyone's money, Scott still refused, probably hiding in the back of a limo somewhere too freaked out to do her scheduled poetry reading. Does she plan on protesting the price of parking that everyone paid for as well?

The money raised from the Jill Scott reading was suppose to also benefit the Hands On Stanzas program, a poets in residence program in inner city public schools that has served 60,000 students, the majority of which are from low income families and represent the city's underserved communities. But all tickets were refunded and the Poetry Center is apparently out $10,000 due to Jill Scott's last minute bout of cold feet. It was the Poetry Center's only last-minute cancellation in 32 years. They got screwed, big time.

Meanwhile, Jill Scott doesn't mind charging the public $20 for her book of poetry and nearly the same for her new CD. And I seem to remember her charging an arm and a leg when I saw her perform live with her band. I guess she knows where her priorities lie, huh?

"Currently we are looking for relief from St Martins," says Ken Clarke. "If they don't volunteer it, then we have other options."

I smell a lawsuit on the horizon, and I wouldn't blame the Poetry Center--not one bit.

--C. J. Laity

Some information from this editorial was obtained from Deanna Isaacs' story in the Chicago Reader.

Click here for The Poetry Center's official statement.

Note: Jill Scott sticks it to the Poetry Center and now there may be a lawsuit on the horizon.

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