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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
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