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2016-jays A really good year.

Every artist has one now and again. A period of time when the universe smiles upon you, life just seems to click, and you have the energy to get done all the jobs you need to do.

It’s a brilliant feeling. And we like spreading that brilliance around. That’s why we asked our readers to nominate the artists in their lives who have had one of those really good years. Then, our panel of experts took a look at the list of nominees and winnowed it down to the top three artists in each discipline who seemed to have the very best years of all.

Below, you’ll read about these 12* artists and have the opportunity to register your vote for which artist in each field should be named 2016 Jasper Artist of the Year.

Winners will be announced at the 2016 Jasper Artist of the Year Gala & Columbia Christmas Carol Lip Sync Championship on December  2nd.




Literary Arts

Carla Damron

Carla Damron’s most important work for the year was the publication of her literary novel, The Stone Necklace, by Story River Books, a division of USC Press. The Stone Necklace was also chosen as the One Book, One Community selection for February 2016 which led to multiple events and appearances, which gave Damron the opportunity to explore the intersection of art and social awareness with hundreds of people (including a presentation at the SC National Alliance for Mental Illness conference). Damron has completed approximately 30 book club presentations thus far, with more scheduled. Damron’s other works include a submission to the Jasper Project’s Marked By Water collection, monthly blogs on the Writerswhokill website, a quarterly column in the SC Social Workers newsletter, and the completion of her fifth novel, which is now in her agent’s hands.

Len Lawson

Len Lawson’s many poetry publications this year have included the following: “Briefcase of Little Tortures,” in Up the Staircase Quarterly, “Down South,” in Charleston Currents; “I Write My Body Eclectic” in [PANK] Magazine; “Feel the Vibration: Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch, A Retrospective” in Yellow Chair Review; “Church Fan,” “Niger (Or the Country Missing a Letter,” and “When a White Man in Camden Tells You to Act Like  You Got Some Sense,” in Drunk in a Midnight Choir;  “Google Search for Black Lives Matter” in Winter Tangerine Review; “ The Black Life Anthem: Unarmed Black People Killed by Police or Dying in Police Custody Since 2012*” in Free Times; “For the Dead Whose Caskets Flowed Out of Graves After the South Carolina Flood,” “12 Year Old Inside Me Seeks a Father Figure,” “Uneasy Dreams of a Presidential Hopeful,” and “The Body is a Cave” in Connotation Press; “  George Zimmerman as Jack in Titanic Painting Trayvon Martin as Rose” and “Krack” in Public Pool; and, “The Invitation” in Get Free Books.

Ray McManus

This year, along with R. Mac Jones, Ray McManus co-edited the anthology Found Anew: Writers Responding to Photographic Histories which was published by USC Press and nominated for the Lillian Smith Book Award. He published the following poems: “Caveman Survey,” “How Boys are Measured,” and “Manspread,” in The Good Men Project; “For the Hardest to Reach Places” in Prairie Schooner; “Dog Box,” “Disturbing Remains,” and “Staying in the Truck” in Hard Lines: Rough South Poetry from USC Press; “When a Dog Comes Back Rabid,” “We Were All Dead Once,” and “Natural Selection,” in Red Truck; “Ask Your Doctor,” “Origin of Species,” “In the Absence of Protection,” and “The Descent of Man” in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature; and, “Ruts” in The State of the Heart Volume II, from USC Press. McManus participated in community projects that included the Tri-District Arts Consortium, The Carolina Master Scholars program, Serious Young Women Writers Workshop, Poetry Out Loud Region II Competition, High School and Middle School ABC Site Training, Word Fest Charlotte, and the Center for Oral Narrative and gave readings at Festival for the Book in Nashville; Pat Conroy Lit Fest in Beaufort: LILA Author Event in Charleston; Book Tavern in Augusta GA; Deckle Edge Literary Festival as well as Mind Gravy in Columbia; the Upcountry Lit Fest; Two Writers Walk into a Bar in Durham NC; and, the Scuppernong Book Store, Greensboro NC.




Visual Arts

Kendal Jason

Kendall Jason's work this year has included quite a few multidisciplinary performance art pieces including the following at The 701 CCA South Carolina Biennial 2015 comprised of Speak to Me: "I've been mad for fucking years, absolutely years, been over the edge for yonks, been working me buns off for bands..." as well as, "I've always been mad, I know I've been mad, like the most of us...very hard to explain why you're mad, even if you're not mad" and Far away across the field, The tolling of the iron bell, Calls the faithful to their knees. To hear the softly spoken magic spells, both with reconstituted performance costumes; Lunatic on the Grass and

Breathe, a single channel video. Jason also created the "Goin Down the Road Feelin Bad" performance at Tapp’s Arts Center In conjunction with Michaela Pilar Brown, and The Transitioner Episode 1- "Who Do You Love"- 3 night performance at 701 CCA. For the Da Da Desque Exhibition 701 CCA, he created The Bags (50lbs Zombie Drawings), The Uniform (Custom Uniform for Work and Play), Episode I, Who Do You Love (Live video), and Ol' Man. He performed at Artista Vista as The Transitioner Episode 2, producing Corn hole Bags (50lbs Zombie Drawings), Extra Large Corn hole boards (Fear Vs. Fan Zombie Cheerleader drawings), and Zombie Drawings.

Michaela Pilar Brown

Among the programs that have occupied Michaela Pilar Brown’s time of late are Summer Arts Residencies in both Sedona Arts Center in Sedona, Arizona as well as one in Kunstlerwerkgemeinschaft Kaiserslautern, Germany. She also served as a visiting artist at Claflin University, Central Piedmont Community College, and at Tapp’s Arts Center, here in Columbia. She was featured in a film by Roni Nicole Henderson as well as one by Wade Sellers, and her work, Speak No’, 2011 was acquired by the Columbia Museum of Art. Her exhibitions included 15-Jahre-Künstlerwerkgemeinschaft volksbank Kaiserslautern; Artfields in Lake City; a solo exhibition and site specific performance, I’m a boss my house, at If Art Gallery; a two-woman show and site specific installation and performance called Making Time Marking Forever at Carrack Contemporary Art in Durham, NC; The Mother Wound site specific performance at Spelman College in Atlanta; Remix – Themes and Variations in African American Art at the Columbia Museum of Art; Wet Hot Southern Summer Group Exhibition at The Southern Gallery in Charleston; Where They Cut Her I Bleed – Site Specific Installation/ Solo Exhibition and Performance at Tapp’s Arts Center; The Space Between – Solo Exhibition and Performance at McMaster Gallery, University of South Carolina; Ruptured Silence Multimedia Performance and Collaboration with Wideman Davis Dance and Darion McCloud at Drayton Hall, University of South Carolina; Liquor and Watermelon Will Kill You – Solo Exhibition at Rebecca Randall Bryan Art Gallery in Conway; and Red Dirt and Doilies – Solo Exhibition at Sumter County Gallery of Art in Sumter.

Lauren Chapman

Among Lauren Chapman’s accomplishments this year was winning second place in the 61st Annual USC Student Art exhibition for the painting Still, and her painting The Flood was featured at the ArtFields Festival 2016 in Lake City as well as being published in the 2016 ArtFields catalog. In May, Chapman had a joint exhibition at Tapp’s Art Center and in August she showcased 25 oil paintings in her first solo exhibition and artist talk, titled Repetitions at the Pearson Lakes Art Center in Okoboji, IA. Chapman was awarded the Yaghjian Studio arts scholarship at USC and received a fully funded art residency at the international center for the arts in Monte Castello, Italy which she attended in June. Finally, Chapman’s oil painting the white rabbit was selected for the "Figure Out" Planned Parenthood exhibition in August.




Music Arts

Mark Rapp

If there’s a linchpin of Columbia’s jazz scene, it’s probably trumpet (and didgeridoo) player Mark Rapp. In addition to balancing a steady stream of gigs around the city with his constant national and international travel, Rapp has kept busy orchestrating a steady stream of recordings, including a long overdue set from jazz patriarch Skipp Pearson and two efforts under his The Song Project Series with guitarist Derek Bronston. And, as part of the Harbison Theatre Performance Incubator Series, Rapp teamed up with professional choreographer Stephanie Wilkins to create Woven, a unique collaboration that combines jazz and contemporary dance that stands as one of the most innovative original performance pieces created in Columbia in recent years.

Dylan Dickerson

Although he’s one of the most affable and easygoing artists in town, when Dylan Dickerson steps on stage with his band Dear Blanca and starts playing music that person seems to slip away. With his post-punk-meets-Hendrix approach to playing guitar and an unadorned bawl of a voice, Dickerson stands clearly out among his peers. His lyrics, pondering and painstaking, feel like anthems for twentysomethings who want to make it plain that their disaffection and distress should never be mistaken for apathy.

Dear Blanca started out slowly but over the past year seems poised to make the next step, releasing two EPs--one produced by Triangle veteran Scott Solter (Mountain Goats, St. Vincent, Spoon), the other by Charleston’s producer-of-the-moment Ryan “Wolfgang” Zimmerman of Brave Baby--that hold to Dickerson’s idiosyncratic vision of folkie Townes Van Zandt drinking at a bar with D. Boon of the Minuteman while proving that Dear Blanca is a band capable of making music every bit as captivating as their heroes.

Justin Daniels

As much as Columbia has begun to champion its hip-hop veterans like FatRat da Czar and Preach Jacobs, there’s no denying that much of the energy of the genre still lies with a powerful younger generation that is still forging its own identity. Of the newer crop of emcees in the Capital City, Justin Daniels, who raps under the moniker H3RO, is one of the best. His December release Between the Panels, despite its DIY sensibility, plays like a masterclass in how to embrace youthful swagger with a keen sense of history. His comic book motifs and love of pure bars harkens back to Wu Tang Clan; the joyful soul samples and backpack rap self-consciousness to Lauryn Hill and early-period Kanye West; and his charismatic exuberance not unlike current rapper-of-the-moment Chance the Rapper. Daniels is still hustling, but his past year suggests the sky is the limit.




Theatre Arts

Baxter Engle

A perennial behind-the-scenes magic maker, Baxter Engle has served over the past year in the following productions: Marie Antoinette (Sound Design); Blithe Spirit (Scenic Design); Peter and the Star Catcher (Scenic and Props Design); American Idiot (Scenic and Video Design); and, Anatomy of a Hug (Scenic and Video Design.) In addition to handling the creative aspects of design, Engle is hands-on throughout the productions from conception to the birth of the show.

Robert Harrelson

The consummate theatre man, Robert Harrelson is the executive director and owner of his own company, and all the hard work and minutiae that implies, with On Stage Productions, a non-profit theatre company in West Columbia. This year, Harrelson directed Little Shop of Horrors, Twisted Carol, Miracle in Memphis, Crimes of the Heart, and Oz: Dorothy’s Return, which he also wrote. He also teaches ongoing acting classes.

Hunter Boyle

In January 2016 Hunter Boyle performed in a staged reading of Composure, a screenplay by Jason Stokes at Trustus’ Side Door Theatre, playing “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman and several other characters. Next, he performed at Trustus Theatre, where he is a Company member, in Peter and the Star Catcher, playing the roles of Mrs. Bumbrake and the mermaid called Teacher. Following that, Boyle performed with the South Carolina Shakespeare Company, where he is also a company member, playing Sir John Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Boyle taught several Master Classes in Musical Theatre (how to tell a story through song) and Acting (how to develop/train your voice effectively for stage work) for the Trustus’ Apprentice Company, as well as a total of five classes (three classes in the fall and two classes in the spring) of Introduction to the Theatre at USC Aiken. Boyle is currently a member in good standing of the Actor’s Equity Association-the union of professional actors in the US, as well as the Screen Actor’s Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in the US. As of the nomination cut-off date, Boyle is currently rehearsing the role of Dr. Scott in The Rocky Horror Picture Show at Trustus Theatre, being directed by Scott Blanks.




(*The 2016 JAY in Dance will not be awarded this year.)

Summer Sixes - Poet Len Lawson Shares his Favorite Films for Summer

"You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes." 

"Show me the money."

"What business is it of yours where I'm from, friendo?”

"It is the dismal tide. It is not the one thing."

"Don't ever argue with the Big Dog, because the Big Dog is always right."

"Aw, man. I shot Marvin in the face."

"You had me at hello."

"Are you not entertained?"

"I'm gonna get medieval on your ass."

 Like every other American obsessed with pop culture, I love these kinds of rankings. Unlike every other American obsessed with pop culture, I probably take these rankings much too seriously because I am passionate about films. I try to go to the movies as a normal person enjoying the theatre experience. I end up thinking I’m Siskel and Ebert giving movies stars or taking them away for this nuance or that wrinkle.

I have maintained this top list of movies for about two decades now, and it is very competitive and tough for new films to break into it. I do give new films a fair trial to enter the lauded pantheon of my top movies. Usually however, they fall to the wayside farther down rankings. (The last movie to really break into the top list after much deliberation made it all the way to the number one spot, so that’s encouraging for new films.)

For example, I would be inclined to add last year’s epic, bone-chilling film The Revenant to this list, but it has to stand the test of time. Moreover, it would have to knock off the other greats here from their respective perches. I really try to avoid the instant reaction of giving the hot new movie the top spot. This is a long process of analyzing characters, cinematography, musical score, drama, and other factors I think I’m qualified to address. I am an educator after all, so I’d like to think I’m good at crafting rubrics.

I know no one likes reading the introductions to these lists, so without further ado, here they are in descending order. Have fun! - Len Lawson

#6 Gladiator

I’m a sucker for Shakespeare, so this film has all the feels of a Shakespearean tragedy: the setting of Rome, the monarchy, suspense, death, high drama. Maximus Decimus Meridius is the quintessential Shakespearean lead character. He totally puts me in mind of Hamlet or Macbeth. Maximus is the general of the emperor’s army and likely heir to the throne because the emperor Marcus Aurelius believes Maximus is more fit to assume the throne than the emperor’s own son Commodus, a sniveling, weaselly, spoiled brat who consequently kills his father the emperor to quicken his pace to the throne. Maximus is not having it, so he goes AWOL only to find that Commodus has destroyed his home and his family. Maximus is then sold into slavery and forced to compete in the gladiator games in Rome where he again meets up with now Emperor Commodus whose reign is not well-received by the Roman senate nor by his sister Lucilla thriving for her own survival in her evil brother’s kingdom.

Russell Crowe is an endearing Spanish slave who as a former general can rally any Roman to his cause. His famous line Are you not entertained?? has become a rallying cry in sports, especially in MMA and professional wrestling. The drama sets up classic coliseum battles and dangerous alliances. I would love to teach this as a play to college students!


#5 The Matrix Trilogy

I’m pulling a notorious rankings move and including three movies in one spot because it is my list and because one Matrix movie teases the pallet for much more. This movie changed cinematography forever. How many films can you name where a martial arts maneuver or dance move is named for the title? The first film appeared at the turn of the century when the world was still in fear of Y2K (ask your parents). The themes of the film made us think that the actual matrix was a reality and not fantasy. The trilogy has that groundbreaking feel not only on film but on pop culture like the insurgence of the Star Wars films. Personally, as a person of faith, I can make so many spiritual connections to the Matrix films that it blows the mind. The plot is a bit complex for a summary, but once the end of the first film hits you, you’re taken to another place beyond movies. Furthermore by the last film, you are left with more questions than answers, and the answers won’t come unless you watch the movie again and again. The layers are endless. To quote my own poetry, “your mind capsizes.” I would watch any movie if you promised me it would have that kind of lasting effect on me.


 #4 Pulp Fiction

This will forever be Quentin Tarantino’s best work. If you put two gangsters, their mob boss, his wife, and a boxer in a blender, then Pulp Fiction (by definition of this term shown at the beginning of the movie) is what you get. For extra fun, Tarantino jumbles the three acts of the movie out of order, so the heart of the film is not even the storyline. The core of the film is the characters themselves. This cast is awesome: Uma Thurman, Ving Rhames, Bruce Willis, John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, and more. After you watch the movie, you want these characters to be in your life for better or worse forever, and you definitely never want Samuel L. Jackson to leave the screen. His dialogue alone has become pop culture gospel. For example, Do you read the Bible, Ringo?...Say what again! I dare you! and before you leave this earth, you better remember Ezekiel 25:17.

This movie is too real for average people like us to watch. You get windows into parts of life you should know nothing about, which is why it keeps us coming back to it.


 #3 Jerry McGuire

A successful sports agent as he says “eats frozen pizza and grows a conscience” one night and basically destroys his career, leaving him with one scrappy, bottom-feeding NFL player. The two develop a dubious friendship outside of their business relationship that changes both their lives for respective purposes.

I am not a real Tom Cruise fan, but I liked him in this movie only because he was stripped of his usual cocky, arrogant Color of Money, Cocktail, Top Gun persona and put into an actual domestic role. It is fun to watch that persona be stripped away scene by scene in character, no less. His awkwardness is endearing when the character Jerry Maguire is out of his element.

Each character has his or her own memorable quotes here. Several breakout stars are in this film: Renee Zellweger as Dorothy Boyd, the frumpy, girl-next-door, widowed mother looking for love (You had me at hello); Jonathan Lipnicki as her cute son Ray (Did you know bees as dogs can smell fear?); and of course Cuba Gooding, Jr. as the embattled football star Rod Tidwell with the classic line Show me the money! It is cool to see Regina King and him as husband and wife both after being in Boyz n the Hood and other unheralded black films.

This is the first and only movie to make me cry. I watched it in the theatre when it first debuted, but one day as a teenager sitting at home watching the scene where Jerry and Dorothy are having issues before Rod’s big game made me tear up. She says, I have this great guy who loves my kid, and he sure does like me a lot. And I can’t live like that. It’s not how I’m built. Wow! She had me at hello!

An extra good scene is where Rod and Jerry are fed up with each other after hanging on by a thread in their respective roles during the football season. Each tries to counsel the other in the areas they are lacking in their lives. I always laugh when Jerry tells Rod, Just shut up! Play the game! Play it from your heart, and I will show you the Quan. And that’s the truth, man. That’s the truth. Can you handle it?? (an obvious allusion to Cruise’s movie A Few Good Men).

Well, I laugh and cry, but the movie has sports, comedy, drama, suspense, and black characters not as stereotypes. Therefore, I’m in for the long haul. Show me the replay! I’ll watch every time.

jerry mcguire


#2 The Fugitive

My favorite actor is Tommy Lee Jones. He can make any movie great by being the same character in each one! He is always the take-charge, semi-surly, no-nonsense leader who lives by the moral compass of a Batman character. I was first introduced to him in The Fugitive.

The first time I saw the movie was when my high school played it in every classroom throughout the day on the last day of school (gotta love those '90s education standards). I couldn’t wait to get to my next class when the bell rang to see what would happen to this doctor who was convicted of murder for the death of his wife, claiming a one-armed man was the killer. Harrison Ford as Dr. Richard Kimble is the anti-O.J. Simpson in this movie.

You are hooked in this movie after the epic train scene which was a huge deal in the '90s. After Kimble escapes the wreckage from the convict transport train crashing, the chase is on for Jones as U.S. Marshall Deputy Samuel Gerard goes on the hunt for Kimble. As a fugitive from the law, Kimble even has the audacity to look for the man who killed his wife and solve the mystery of why. You root for both Gerard and Kimble throughout the movie.

This might be the best cat-and-mouse chase movie ever if it weren’t for my number one. The way Jones as Gerard leads his band of deputies is endearing so much that, again, you want the characters to be with you always. This is also why I love the sequel film U.S. Marshals just as much if not more. I would love to see Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones do a sequel where they just share a beer and remember the old days of chasing down killers and dodging bullets in Chicago. Hopefully, both will make it to this meeting; they’re both getting up in age.


 #1 No Country for Old Men

Again I say, I love Tommy Lee Jones, but in this movie, he is older, slower, and even wiser and cagier than his character U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard in The Fugitive. In this film, he is not the slick, dominant leader. He is the wily veteran Sheriff Ed Tom Bell trying to keep up with the drug trade and violence in his Texas county. He is also trying to keep up with two younger, swifter, more brazen characters: Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss, a hunter who finds a briefcase with $2 million in a drug deal-gone-bad and Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh, a ruthless sociopath hired to retrieve the briefcase.

There are so many layers to the film. Chigurh (pronounced like sugar, stress on the second syllable) has his own code of ethics and kills on his terms. He is a character for the ages in film on the same level with The Joker but colder, not as maniacal. He even allows his victims to call it on a coin toss to reveal their fates. His air pump is a unique weapon used originally to kill cattle before the slaughter. His shotgun with the silencer on the end shatters victims’ bodies without prejudice. This man should not be roaming free on the streets anywhere. He always taunts his victims with probing questions, yet he never sees reality by their terms, only his. He is sick, but he is brilliant at his skillset, a chilling prophet spreading his gospel of right and wrong in blood. He confronts one of his victims in the film with this epic question: If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?

Llewelyn tries to keep out of Chigurh’s reach throughout the movie with his own military veteran skillset. Each tries to outwit the other with Sheriff Bell always one step behind. The most amazing part of the film is that none of these three main characters EVER come face to face with the other. Brilliant! It is a thriller without much dialogue. The pictures tell the story with genius.

Although it is a masterful film based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy with the title taken from a William Butler Yeats poem “Sailing to Byzantium,"* the scene where Sheriff Bell almost catches up to Chigurh in an El Paso hotel always irks me. If Chigurh can escape Bell, then why doesn’t he kill Bell like the rest of his victims? The sheriff coming back for Chigurh would certainly upset Chigurh’s “code." The sheriff would be very vulnerable returning to the hotel. There are many theories to this scene. This is just another layer to the classic.

The lifestyle of violence portrayed in the film catches up to all three main characters, but each responds to it in different ways. It either consumes them, overcomes them, or surrenders them. The great line by Sherriff Bell and the El Paso sheriff toward the end speaks to the warning of the title: It is the dismal tide. It is not the one thing.

no country

What have we learned from this list? They all have arguably white male-dominated main characters. All but one has gun violence and horrific death scenes. Obviously, I like suspense, thriller, and drama films. I like my movies well-rounded with a little bit of each genre, but these three keep me interested. As a writer and poet, I am always considering elements of fiction in films. I usually can predict a film’s outcome before the halfway point which is no fun for anyone I watch with, but I usually keep these things to myself. I try to lose the critical eye in movies, but that wouldn’t make me an artist, would it?

Len Lawson

Len Lawson is the author of the upcoming chapbook Before the Night Wakes You (Finishing Line Press) and co-editor of the upcoming Poets Respond to Race anthology (Muddy Ford Press). He has been accepted to the Ph.D. in English Literature and Criticism program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Len is a 2015 Pushcart Prize & Best of the Net nominee and a 2016 Callaloo Fellow.  His poetry has been featured in Fall Lines, Jasper Magazine, Charleston Currents, and Poems on The Comet. He teaches writing at Central Carolina Technical College, and his website is





*Sailing to Byzantium

by William Butler Yeats

That is no country for old men. The young In one another's arms, birds in the trees – Those dying generations – at their song, The salmon‐falls, the mackerel‐crowded seas, Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long Whatever is begotten, born, and dies. Caught in that sensual music all neglect Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing, A tattered coat upon a stick, unless Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing For every tatter in its mortal dress, Nor is there singing school but studying Monuments of its own magnificence; And therefore I have sailed the seas and come To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire As in the gold mosaic of a wall, Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre, And be the singing‐masters of my soul. Consume my heart away; sick with desire And fastened to a dying animal It knows not what it is; and gather me Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take My bodily form from any natural thing, But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make Of hammered gold and gold enamelling To keep a drowsy Emperor awake; Or set upon a golden bough to sing To lords and ladies of Byzantium Of what is past, or passing, or to come.



Poems Flow with Your Cup of Morning Joe via River Poems from One Columbia and the office of the Poet Laureate

  one columbia coffee


Local poets come together to create coffee sleeve poems about the historic flood and rivers of Columbia for national poetry month this April.


In conjunction with One Columbia for Arts and History, Ed Madden, the city of Columbia’s poet laureate, has created a project titled River Poems. This project will focus on bringing poetry to the people of Columbia during the entire month of April. Since 1996, April has been national poetry month, and one of the tasks of the poet laureate is to promote the literary arts. “As a project for the poet laureate, last year and this year both, we put poems on the buses. We had already decided the theme this year would be the river, because it is the theme for Indie Grits, but I think the flood added additional urgency to the theme,” says Madden.


Along with the bus project, the second project this year was to put the poems on coffee sleeves. “We’ve been trying to think of ways to promote poetry in unexpected places, so coffee sleeves felt like a really obvious place to put poetry,” says Madden. “You can drink your morning cup and read beautiful literature.”


Seven local writers came together for this wonderful opportunity to spread literature around the city. The writers include, Jennifer Bartell, Betsy Breen. Jonathan Butler, Bugsy Calhoun, Monifa Lemons Jackson, Len Lawson, Ray McManus, and Madden himself. After sending out a limited call to those artists to create a piece of poetry eight lines or fewer, each poem was then stamped on thousands of coffee sleeves that will be distributed at independent coffee shops around Columbia. Including both Drip locations, and the Wired Goat.


“I think the idea of the coffee sleeves is so smart. Columbia has a healthy relationship with the arts, especially the performing arts. But the city gives a lot of love to the fine arts, the design arts, and the literary arts that has thrived here for quite some time.  You’d expect that from a capital city to a certain extent. But what is unique in Columbia is that the art scene is so diverse, and there is a growing respect for that diversity. The literary scene is no exception. There is a little something for everyone here. I hope that resonates,” says Ray McManus, poet and author of the poem Mud.


Each of the eight poems centers around the idea of the river that runs through Columbia. This idea ties in with the theme of this year’s Indie Grits Festival, which is Waterlines as well as The Jasper Project’s multi-disciplinary project Marked by the Water, which will commemorate the first anniversary of the floods in October. There are also a few featured poems that represent the voices of people effected by the historic flood which ran through the city last October. Overall, each poems creates a sense of what the rivers mean to each poet, and how in many ways people are still mending together the pieces almost six months later.


When writing her poem titled What Stays, Betsy Breen was thinking back to a particular image she recollects from the flood. “I was thinking about the flood in October, and all the debris that washed up during that time. I have a particular image in my mind of a part of Gills Creek that I pass every morning on the way to work. The week after the rain stopped, it was filled with both keepsakes and trash. I was thinking of that when I wrote this poem,” says Breen.


It was almost opposite for McManus, who says most of his inspiration almost always comes from books and projects. “I love exploring directions that I didn’t otherwise intend. I’ve always been drawn to rivers; the way they perform; the way they’re always moving. And we depend on them more than we realize, especially in the most basic of functions. We grow from rivers, from the mud of rivers. At some point they become a part of who we are,” says McManus.


National poetry month begins on April 1. Columbia is sure to be celebrating all month with something to read as people drink their coffee and travel to work. “We are always looking for more ways to promote the arts, and I believe this year that includes a pretty unique project,” says Madden.


Don’t forget to pick up your cup of morning joe this month to feel the inspiration of poetry. Breen reminds us that “National Poetry month is much larger than this poem or project, of course, and I do hope people pay attention to all the different kinds of poetry around them.”

-- Alivia Seely

Where is Your Next Stop? Launching Poets on The Comet This Sunday, November 1!


Rosa Rode the Bus Too A revolution began on a city bus. Where is your next stop? - Len Lawson

By: Literary Arts Editor and City Poet Laureate Ed Madden

On Sunday, November 1, One Columbia and The Comet will host the launch of our city’s first major poetry as a public art program—poems on city buses—with a rolling poetry reading on a downtown bus route followed by a celebration and reading at Tapp’s Art Center (1644 Main).

The rolling reading will take place on route 101—so we’re calling it Poetry 101. (Clever, right?) The route, which runs up North Main from the Sumter Street transit station, takes approximately an hour. There will be limited seating, first come, first served. Three sets of poets will read their work for Poetry 101, and thanks to the generosity of One Columbia, all rides on the 101 route will be free all day. For the Poetry 101 rolling reading, meet at the Sumter Street station (1780 Sumter) at 3:30. If you can’t join us on the bus, join us at Tapp’s Art Center for the celebration, with food and drink and readings by more of the poets.

The project is a collaboration One Columbia Arts and History and the Poet Laureate with the Central Midlands Transit Authority. Thanks especially to Lee Snelgrove at One Columbia and Tiffany James at CMTA.

This is my first major project as the city’s poet laureate, and I’m really excited that we have been able to do this. One of my charges as the city laureate is to incorporate the literary arts into the daily life of the city, and to get poetry into public places. The Comet project does that. We have poems on printed CMTA bus schedules (check out some online at:, we have poems on the buses themselves, and One Columbia has also published a small book of poems selected for this project—an exciting collection of South Carolina voices, and short poems ranging from the punchy to the political to the poignant. The books will be available at Tapp’s.

Earlier this year, 89 South Carolina writers submitted over 200 poems for Poems on the Comet. Our theme was “The Story of the City,” and poets wrote about favorite places, historical events, daily life in the Midlands, even poems about riding on the bus. We narrowed it down to 51 poems by 45 writers. There are poems by established writers, emerging writers, writers active in the local spoken word and arts communities, musicians, and young writers—seven of them students in Richland and Lexington County middle schools.

At Tapp’s we will also announce the theme for next year’s poetry project.

You can find out more at our Facebook event site:

Learn more about this project and get updates on what I’m doing as laureate at the laureate website:

Here are a few poems featuring in this year’s project.


Jennifer Bartell

As a turtle suns on the boulders of the river so my soul stretches forth to face the day.

Downtown Grid

Kathleen Nalley

No matter your starting point, here you’re never lost. Each right turn, each left turn leads you to a familiar place. The city itself a compass, its needle, no matter the direction, always points you home.

Small Winds

Jonathan Butler

All morning the wind has collected the incense of fields, the smell of grass like the sweet breath of the dead, the scent of earth pungent with sorrow and hope, the perfume the rain shakes from its long hair.

The wind has collected these things in fields and forests, cities and towns, to bring them to you this morning, small winds carrying chocolate and smoke blown from the black lake of your cup of coffee.

Who Sees The City?

Drew Meetze (age 14)

Who sees the city best? The tourist, the resident, or the outsider? The tourist sees the bronze stars on the capitol, the cramped racks of key chains and postcards. The resident sees little coffee shops on Main Street and hidden alleyways. The outsider understands that everyone they see has their own lives, first loves, or tragedies.


K. LaLima

Time flows like water Eyes of Cofitachequi Watch the Congaree


Under watchful gaze Five Points remains guarded by That naked cowboy

Milltown Saltbox Bedrooms

David Travis Bland

You can dance in the passenger seat— I'll hold the wheel. Five in the morning traffic Between an emaciated bridge And chicken factory steam Blurring the red neon sky. We're vegetarians in a pork town Dancing in milltown saltbox bedrooms On the banks of a river we all cross.