Spoken Word poetry is alive and well in Orlando

ORLANDO – The journey starts in Orlando, but it quickly heads elsewhere … first a taxi in Mumbai … then a beach in Hawaii … finally the Atomic Bomb Dome in Japan …

It’s a tour around the world, all done over a cup of coffee or with a Panini on the side.  It’s a tour that comes courtesy of Swami, a world traveler who brings his experiences, impressions and questions about the places he visits back to Orlando, just in time for Soft Exposure.

Swami gets ready to describe his world travels during the Soft Exposure Reading Series & Open Mic at Infusion Tea.

“Thank you, everyone, for coming out tonight and indulging me,” Swami said to the crowd that had gathered at the tables surrounding the open microphone at Infusion Tea on Edgewater Drive.

The Bohemian-style cafe, with its Herbed Cream Cheese Sandwiches and vegan platters, seemed the perfect location for another very Bohemian tradition: a poetry night.

“Orlando is a wonderful town,” said Frankie Messina, an original co-founder of the poetry readings, known officially as the Soft Exposure Reading Series and Open Mic, and the guest host for the evening.  “It has a lot of poetry nights. We just kind of rounded it out and called it Soft Exposure.”

Infusion Tea is the kind of Bohemian coffee house that has poetry nights.

Spoken word artistry is often traced back to the 1950s and the Beats who met in urban coffeehouses to share their poetry, often words that never got published.  A similar Spoken Word movement started in the late 1980s known as “poetry slams,” where spoken word artists would square off together on stage, often engaging in political protests. Coffee shops remain a prime venue for these performers.

Swami brought with him to the Soft Exposure night some shared memories of his trips around the world, with stops in Mumbai, the North Shore of Oahu, and Hiroshima.

“He’s basically a renaissance guy,” Messina said, noting that Swami has worked as an animator, writer, and filmmaker, in addition to being part of a group known as CouchSurfing – people who travel across the globe, hosting one another, often times by providing a sleeping space on their couch – hence the name.

“It’s basically a world-wide network of traveling spirits,” Swami said. “It’s really an amazing way to get to know some amazing people, by sleeping on their couch.”

Those couches have enabled Swami, at age 49, to keep on traveling – and to bring back with him the anecdotes he uses for his Spoken Word poetry.  Bohemia in the Deep South? Absolutely, Messina said, adding that with growth comes plenty of rich diversity.

“In the last 18 years, Orlando has really grown around me,” Messina said. That’s one reason why he created the Web site www.Apartmente.com, or Apartment E, a movement to encourage people to express themselves. As the Web site notes, Apartment E is all about finding your voice and making it heard.

Frankie Messina organizes the Soft Exposure Reading Series to let people express themselves in front of an open microphone -- and a crowd.

“APARTMENT E IS ‘YOU’,” Messina writes on the site.  “It is that place inside of you that you want to share with the world.  Define it, create it … and then share it!”

Spoken Word poetry nights like Soft Exposure allow people to do just that, and it gave Swami a forum for his travel journal.

“Swami has been compelled to express and share,” Messina said, noting that the artist’s favorite activities include “hanging out at Bohemian coffee houses, petting cats, and striving to help others achieve their potential.”

And don’t forget visiting new locations, Swami reminded him, which is why one of his Spoken Word poems was called “In My Backpack” – encouraging people to climb into his backpack and join him for the world tour.

“Yes, you can stow away in my backpack,” Swami said.  “Come with me to foreign lands. Live your dreams.”

Swami has done just that, even when the dreams get a little bit rocky, such as in “Mad Ride Through Mumbai.”

“This was written about a mad taxi ride from the airport to my hotel in Mumbai,” he said, adding that Taxi 2108 was “small, very small; old, very old; and fast, very fast,” operated by a driver who seemed oblivious to other cars, or even pedestrians.

“Does this guy know what he’s doing?” Swami asked.  “Apparently, he thinks he owns the road.  Apparently, the lane markings are mere suggestions.”

But Swami survived that ride, and was able to move on to the beaches of Oahu, where his passion for surfing – always difficult to achieve growing up 150 miles from the beach in Maryland – was realized.

“Relatively speaking, Florida does not have the best waves in the world. Hawaii does,” he said.

His path also took him to Hiroshima, where he visited the Atomic Bomb Dome.

“I decided to ask some Japanese people about it,” he recalled, then recounted how he stopped a young woman who worked as a teacher.

“Her English was not the best, but she was willing to sit with me for a while,” Swami said.

He asked the woman what the Atomic Bomb Dome meant to her, and she responded, “A symbol of peace.”

“I said what was on my mind – a symbol of destruction,” he said.  “She was looking to the future, while I was looking to the past.  I said ‘I hope I too can come to see it as a symbol of peace.’ “

He also encouraged people to start their own journeys and see where they end up.

“Go from observer to participant,” Swami said.  “Start walking to nowhere, anywhere. See where it might take you.”

Infusion Tea has Poetry Night at 6:30 p.m. on Fridays. Call 407-999-5255 to learn more.

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

From colorful Poinsettias to plenty of mulch, Landscape Nursery Inc. does it all.

ORLANDO – Like a lot of people who love flowers, Gail Hess is always concerned when a major cold spell is coming on.

Even one night can do a lot of damage to her plants, she noted.

“It can happen in one evening,” Hess said.  “It has to be freezing.  A frost doesn’t normally kill them.  A hard freeze does.”

That’s why Hess takes extra care to be sure her plants stay warm on those rare nights when Florida temperatures drop below 32 degrees. But she has a more challenging task than a lot of others, since her garden covers 26 acres.

Gail Hess shows the few remaining poinsettias that haven't sold this holiday season at Landscape Nursery Inc., which she's operated since 1983.

“It takes a while for you to notice your plants are dead,” Hess said.  “I’d cut them back, but I’d wait until the cold is over.  I would just leave them alone for now.  There’s a lot of plant material that will come back, and people don’t realize that, that they just have to wait.”

Hess has had quite a while to learn about what plants need to grow and thrive. Since 1983, she’s operated Landscape Nursery Inc., located at 1955 S. Apopka-Vineland Road in Orlando. Right now, not surprisingly, her front office is covered with poinsettias – but with Christmas just days away, they’re selling fast.

“We’re almost out of poinsettias,” she said. “Our tables were filled with poinsettias. Now they’re mostly sold out.”

That may have been because of the huge sign under one of her tents – “Open to the Public – Poinsettias are Ready,” inviting customers to check out the row after row, table after table, of red, white and pink poinsettias.  A lot of the tables and rows, though, are bare now.

“We have sold a ton of the big ones,” Hess said.  “People like to put them on their front porch.”

Poinsettias also make a great plant for your own garden, as they turn from red to green after the holidays, Hess said.

“You can plant them in your yard and they will come back year after year,” she said.  “Just remember they need darkness at night, a spot where there is no light whatsoever in the evening.”

Her employees – 20 altogether – have stayed busy protecting their plants from the cold spell that arrived on Sunday, Dec. 12, and has brought overnight freezing temperatures to a region more used to 80 degrees in December.

“The cold creates problems for everybody,” she said.  “We have employees who come in and we have to make sure the plastic (covering the tents) is secured. And we have some heaters and fans that we use.”

Hess knows a thing or two about cold winters. She moved to Orlando in 1979 from Wisconsin, although it wasn’t the promise of tropical winters that brought her here. Instead, she was in search of a better business climate.

“The corporate taxes in Wisconsin were the highest in the union,” she said.

Hess has done well over the years operating a nursery in a state where growth has meant a lot of new residential and commercial construction work, and with it the need for landscaping projects to beautify the new properties. 

Customers are invited to come check out the rows of pink, white and red poinsettias at Landscape Nursery Inc.

“We sell all over the state, so we deliver all over the state,’ she said.  “We employ our own drivers and have a couple of mechanics, and we try to be a one stop shop for landscapers.  We grow our own plant material – a lot of others don’t. Most everything we sell is grown here. We buy in some trees and different items. We do the mulches and rocks and compost soil.”

It helps that landscaping is regulated in Orange County through so-called Arbor laws – designed to prevent a builder from abandoning a landscaping project once it’s been started.

“They have to have the landscaping done before you get your occupancy permit,” Hess said. “Years before, they could get their occupancy permit first, and some of the builders wouldn’t finish the landscaping work.  So now we have Arbor laws.”

Landscape Nursery did quite well when the residential housing construction boom was underway, but even with the collapse of the housing market, Hess said a lot of homeowners still hire landscaping firms and private landscaping contractors to create a beautiful yard for them – and those landscapers need the materials for the job.

“We don’t do the actual landscaping work, but we sell to the landscapers,” she said.

Landscape Nursery Inc. is open Mondays through Fridays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. To learn more, call 407-298-1703 or 1-800-330-1703.

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

What exactly is Plato’s Cave? That’s open to discussion

ORLANDO – They call it Plato’s Cave, but it’s not a place to hide in … although in a sense it could be classified as an ideal location for explorers. In this case, though, the explorations are not made by those treading into unknown territory. Everyone who has gotten into Plato’s Cave has a good sense of where they want to go.

“One of our discussions was on Utopia – what would a Utopia look like,” said Steve Hall. “One of our discussions was on the allegory of the cave – how we do not observe reality in its fundamental state. It’s all interpreted through our perceptions.”

Steve Hall loves reading a good science book -- and debating philosophy at coffee houses. So do the other members of Plato's Cave.

Anyone looking for an example of just how diverse the Deep South has become should look no further than Plato’s Cave: a group of nearly two dozen people who meet on a monthly basis to discuss and debate philosophical questions, to apply logic and reason to issues and concerns that have been argued over for centuries.

“We have a group of amateur philosophers that meet up,” said Hall, the group’s current organizer. “We have about 45 members, but only 20 are able to meet at any one time.”

When they do, it’s on the third Sunday of every month at 1 p.m. at  Austin’s Coffee, 929 W. Fairbanks Ave. in Winter Park. Old and modern philosophical issues get debated, “everything from Plato and Socrates to (Immanuel) Kant to Ken Wilber,”  Hall said.  “We look at ancient wisdom to modern intelligence to free will.”

How did the Greater Orlando-based group first come together? Hall said it was founded in 2006 by Jo Bernard, who didn’t get a chance to see Plato’s Cave blossom into a regular club.

“She unfortunately lost her job in Orlando and had to move back to New York, at which point the rest of the members twisted my arm to be the next organizer,” Hall said.  “That was two years ago.”

Members keep turning out, he said, because of how enjoyable the discussions are – and how diverse the attendees have been.

“Definitely it’s intellectually stimulating,” Hall said. “We have PhD professors, people who teach philosophy, people who are engineers – we have all sorts.”

One of the regulars is Ben Griffith, who teaches at New Dimensions High School in Poinciana, and enjoys the atmosphere that Plato’s Cave provides.

“It’s definitely one of the most intellectually stimulating discussions around,” he said, noting that a recent meeting focused on the book “The Moral Landscape: Why Science Should Shape Morality,” by Sam Harris.

Harris, an atheist, argues that science has its own moral code and there’s no need for religion.

While debating the book’s theories, Griffith said, Plato’s Cave members focused “a lot on conceptualism and moral census.”

Generally, though, the group doesn’t wade regularly into religion or interpretations of the Bible.

“We haven’t gotten much into religion, though we have gotten into spirituality,” Hall said.  “We’re more likely to debate biotechnology – how long should people be able to live.”

“It’s more of a philosophical approach to the issues,” Griffith added. “A philosophical approach would be that you justify your view with a greater level of logic and vigor.”

That means they don’t automatically endorse every scientific theory out there.

“Science is best described by experiments that can be refuted,” Hall said.

Plato’s Cave is also quite different, Hall said, from a group that gets together to debate political issues. For one thing, the arguments are far less acrimonious than what you might expect on talk radio.

“We occasionally venture into politics, but we try to stay out of that,” Hall said. “It’s more likely to have to do with morals, or it might have to do with ethics.”

Griffith added that the debates are cordial, not heated.

“Philosophy has expectations for the rhetoric,” he said.  “It’s civil rather than acrimonious.”

And it’s a lot more fun than some people might think, Hall added.

“We have some great discussions,” Hall said. “But people that join our group need to RSVP first – we don’t allow ‘maybes’.”

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

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