Kimberly Simms does not think small. A published award-winning poet, she started South Carolina’s first-ever poetry slam (a live event where poets perform their poems onstage) in Charleston back in the ’90s when she was 18 years old. So when she came back home to Greenville in 2001 and saw that the city had no real spoken-word poetry scene to speak of, she decided to start one herself.
Simms founded Wit’s End Poetry, a nonprofit that promotes poetry events and provides resources to established and emerging poets, in 2002. Since the first event in September 2002, Wit’s End has steadily expanded Greenville’s influence on the national spoken-word poetry scene.
Thanks to Wit’s End, Greenville hosted the first-ever World Poetry Slam back in 2004, bringing 40 poets from all over the world to the Upstate. They started weekly poetry readings at Coffee Underground that still run to this day, usually selling out. And they helped create a touring route through the Carolinas and Georgia for visiting poets to do readings. And whether you know it or not, Greenville poetry slam teams compete in — and win — national competitions.
And it all started because Simms saw a gap in the Carolinas’ arts scene that needed to be filled back in 2001, after returning from a long stay in Europe.
“When I came back from Europe, the only poetry slam that was still going in the Carolinas was in Asheville,” Simms says. “Today if you say ‘poetry slam’ or ‘performance poetry,’ people know what you’re talking about, but back in 2002, it was like you were speaking Greek. I started looking for poetry events, and you couldn’t find them. There might be an event that would pop up every two or three months at this bar or that club, but it was difficult to find out when these events were happening.”
Simms met up with Native American poet Terry Creech in North Carolina while searching for events, and they made a pact to start poetry slams in their own cities. Then it was up to Simms to let people know what was happening.
“What we started doing was old-school guerrilla marketing,” she says, “putting flyers in books in the poetry sections of bookstores or at the grocery store. And anytime someone would have a poetry event, I would take flyers and get up onstage at the event and tell people what we were trying to do. We ended up having 35 people at the first event we ever had in 2002. And I felt like that was a sign that it was something that people were hungry for.”
Now, nearly 20 down the line, and with Upstate spoken-word performers like Moody Black gaining national notice, Simms says that Wit’s End Poetry has accomplished much.
“With Wit’s End I had two goals,” she says. “To create events where everyone felt welcome, to create systems where we could grow and develop the talent that we have in South Carolina. And now, we have this really thriving poetry scene. To me Wit’s End has always been about service to the community; there are a lot of new and talented poets, and I would hate for them not to have an opportunity to explore their potential.”
Wit’s End Poetry
- Simms is a graduate of Furman University (BA) and Clemson University (MA), and her work has appeared in over 30 literary journals including the “Asheville Poetry Review” and the “Broad River Review.”
- Greenville’s Say What Slam Team was recently ranked fifth in the nation by the National Poetry Slam.
- The Greenville Slam Team placed in the top four of the Southern Fried South East Regional Poetry Slam from 2015-2017.
For a list of upcoming events, visit witsendpoetry.com